Spotlight on Salonica

After months of keeping a low profile after his government retreated in the face of popular opposition to its social security reform proposals, Prime Minister Costas Simitis arrived in Thessaloniki last night and, in a spirited speech, declared that he was personally committed to strengthening the Greek economy and would not be swayed from his path. Simitis arrived in the northern city for the opening of the annual International Trade Fair, where tonight he will provide details of next year’s economic policy. He was greeted by several thousand flag-waving PASOK supporters at the airport. But Thessaloniki also resembled a city under siege, as a strong police presence sealed off the center to prevent any demonstrators from reaching the fairgrounds while Simitis was there. Riot squads will also cordon off the area this evening, when four separate demonstrations are expected to close in from different directions. Unions and organizations allied with the Communist Party are to march from the HANTH (YMCA) Square at the port toward the fairgrounds, while unemployed teachers and demonstrators of the Genoa 2001 movement will be marching from the statue of Eleftherios Venizelos, an assortment of extra-parliamentary leftist groups will be marching from Valerian’s Arch, and the Thessaloniki Labor Center will be holding its own demonstration. The protests are against the whole range of government decisions and policies, including privatization, globalization and NATO’s presence in the Balkans. The result is that an unprecedented police cordon will allow only the cars of officials to move through the city center from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. today. At the inauguration of the 66th Thessaloniki fair, Simitis declared: I want to move decisively toward policies that will put the Greek economy decisively and irreversibly on the road of a strong society… I commit myself to this. The prime minister’s use of the first person was a rare break with his habit and was a declaration to dissenters in the party that he would stick to his policy of economic stability tied with greater spending on social programs aimed at helping the needier members of society. Simitis attacked the forces which try to force citizens to hide behind the walls of the past in order to defend what is dying out and not to win that which is coming. He promised more structural changes, a successful 2004 Olympiad, health system reforms and more social spending. Against this ideology of isolation and fear, we are building national self-confidence, he said. Simitis pointed out that in four months Greece, along with its partners in the eurozone, will adopt the single European currency. Nothing will be as it was, he said. Everything will change: Macroeconomic policy, foreign currency policy, inflation, prices of goods and services, collective agreements, competitiveness. Med Games. Weightlifter Leonidas Kokkas won two gold medals at the Mediterranean Games in Tunis yesterday in the 94-kilogram category, lifting 170 kilos in the snatch and 212.5 kilos in the clean-and-jerk. In the same event, Costas Garipis lifted 210 kilos, a junior record, to finish second. In the women’s Over-75-kilos category, Katerina Roditi won gold in the snatch with 107.5 kilos and silver in the jerk with 125 kilos. In the women’s 69-kilos, Maria Tatsi won gold in the clean-and-jerk with 122.5 kilos.

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