PM set for keynote address

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis begins his three-day visit to Thessaloniki today ahead of his economic policy speech at the International Fair tomorrow, with sources saying the ruling conservatives are confident that the address will strengthen the government’s reformist image. Government sources told Kathimerini that Karamanlis and his ministers have been encouraged by recent poll results which indicate that New Democracy has a steady lead ahead of its main rival PASOK. They have also been buoyed by the reaction to the announcement this week that the government will sell off part of its stake in OTE telecom and look for a strategic partner. Sources said the government felt opposition from unions and other parties to the move was weak and that polls conducted on behalf of the ruling conservatives suggested public opinion mostly supports the decision. Karamanlis is expected to emphasize New Democracy’s achievements in two-and-a-half years in power while avoiding promises of handouts, although he is due to announce some changes to the tax system which will benefit the working and middle classes. Sources said that the main thrust of the premier’s argument will be that ND has pulled the Greek economy out of difficulty and has formed a sound basis for future growth. The prime minister will indicate that this development can be achieved if the ruling conservatives are voted in to office again. Many commentators believe that the government will not see out its full four-year term and will call general elections next year. Karamanlis is due to tour several public works in Thessaloniki today, including the metro construction site, in an effort to highlight that his government is delivering on the promises that it has made. However, the prime minister is also likely to face a number of protests against his government’s policies. Policemen, coast guard officers and firefighters are due to hold a rally in front of the city’s White Tower. Greece’s largest unions, GSEE and ADEDY, have also organized a protest in the city center at 6 p.m. tomorrow and demonstrators are due to march to the exhibition center where the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) is being held. A strong police presence has been ordered at the exhibition center to prevent demonstrators from entering the TIF grounds. Sources said that some 3,000 police officers will be on duty in Thessaloniki over this weekend to prevent any outbreaks of violence.