No way back on road to reform, PM tells voters

The government is committed to continuing its reform program and will not return to the «populist» policies of the past, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in his economic policy speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair on Saturday. He said the time was right for the government to agree to a national «responsibility pact» with voters to ensure that economic reforms are carried out with consensus and at a steady pace. «The conditions today are ripe, more than ever, for us to draft together a common reform pact, a responsibility pact for the Greece that we want over the next years,» said Karamanlis. In a reference to the previous PASOK governments, the premier said that New Democracy would keep a tight control on public spending. «There will not be any careless spending which the economy cannot support,» said Karamanlis. «Our trust [with voters] is based on responsible policies and not irresponsible spending.» However, the prime minister did announce that benefit payments for pensioners with low incomes would rise from 160 to 230 euros per month and that farmers’ pensions would increase from 227 to 330 euros by 2008. As had been predicted, he also confirmed that a bill was being prepared which will lead to a rise in the tax-free threshold and a gradual lowering of tax rates over the next few years, benefiting the working and middle classes. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Karamanlis rejected predictions that he would call early elections next year. «We have a full agenda for the rest of our term in office and there are no other thoughts in my mind,» he said. The prime minister also criticized main opposition PASOK for attempting to polarize Greek politics. Rioters upset peaceful marchRioters clashed with police for a second night in Thessaloniki on Saturday, throwing petrol bombs and setting fire to cars, as more than 10,000 demonstrators protested against the government’s economic policy. A group of about 250 youths broke off from the peaceful demonstration organized by the country’s two largest union groups, GSEE and ADEDY. Rioters wearing helmets and masks attacked police while authorities responded by firing back tear gas. The youths then sought refuge by running into the grounds of Aristotle University where they set fire to cars and garbage cans. A small group also tried to push through barricades to the trade fair where Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was speaking. The Athens News Agency reported that 70 suspects were detained, of which one was arrested. On Friday night, violence broke out at a demonstration of supporters from PAOK soccer club which is facing financial problems. Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras played down the riots on Saturday and said that the 3,000 police on hand were well prepared. «(Friday’s) riots were not the object of police work but the exploitation by television stations,» he said.