By Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Greece's second largest city Thessaloniki on Saturday denouncing austerity shortly after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras delivered a key speech on economic policy, assuring that the end of recession is at the turn of the corner.
During the inauguration of the annual Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, Samaras assured that the ailing economy is on the way to recovery in 2014 after six years of painful recession and three years of austerity policies introduced to avert bankruptcy and exit an acute debt crisis.
Greece is gaining ground on the path to achieve primary budget by early 2014 and meet all commitments undertaken under bailout deals with international creditors who keep the country afloat since 2010, Samaras said.
The conservative leader appeared confident that better days are coming soon for suffering Greeks who have seen their incomes shrinking by about 30 percent in three years due to pay cuts and tax hikes and jobless rates skyrocketing to 28 percent.
Demonstrators, who joined rallies organized by the main labor unions of private and public sector workers GSEE and ADEDY and opposition parties in Thessaloniki on Saturday, do not share the government's optimism.
They fear a new wave of harsh measures will be imposed after the next assessment of Greece's stability and growth program by European Union and International Monetary Fund envoys in coming weeks due to delays in the implementation of some policies.
"Enough is enough. We can't take anymore," read banners raised, as protesters were chanting slogans against spending cuts and unprecedented mass dismissals and mandatory transfers of thousands civil servants in the framework of efforts to overhaul civil services.
Voicing the frustration of low income Greeks, poor pensioners, the unemployed and small and medium sized enterprises the main opposition Radical Left SYRIZA party strongly criticized the Prime Minister's speech.
"Samaras sees a brake in unemployment when 1.5 million Greeks are jobless. He sees order in the education and health systems, when schools and hospitals are closing...He sees primary surpluses and growth on the ruins of recession," said a statement released, as SYRIZA's leader Alexis Tsipras was joining protesters in Thessaloniki.
About 4,000 police officers were deployed to the streets to maintain order, as small groups of protesters scuffled briefly with anti-riot forces.
Saturday's rallies during the opening day of Thessaloniki's Trade Fair traditionally mark the beginning of the new round of protests and strikes against the government's economic policies each autumn after summer lull.