THESSALONIKI, Greece, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said here Saturday his country would overcome the debt crisis that has alarmed Europe and the world, pledging to continue an austerity and reform drive, amid massive protests Saturday evening.
"We made a decision to give a fight, avoid a destructive default and stay within the euro zone ... We are determined to fulfil our commitments to our counterparts and meet targets," said the Greek prime minister in a keynote opening speech at the 76th Thessaloniki International Fair in the northern Greek city.
Focusing on the government's economic policy in the coming months, the nationally televised address aimed to ease reactions to painful budget cuts, tax hikes and reforms within Greece, as well as doubts of international markets and lenders who pressure Athens to meet budget deficit and reform targets.
Debt-ridden Greece escaped bankruptcy in 2010 with a first multi-billion euro aid of the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund and relies on counterparts ever since to meet financial demands until 2014. Without the regular tranches aid Greece could still run out of money within a few weeks.
"Our first priority is the full implementation of the decisions made on July 21. We will reach all the necessary decisions, so that Greece will stand again on its feet," stressed Papandreou at Vellidion conference hall, referring to the recent European agreement on a second bailout pact to support the debt-ridden country exit the crisis.
Acknowledging the heavy sacrifices of low and middle income households and entrepreneurs, the Greek leader repeated a plea to national unity to reform Greece, as minor clashes broke outside the venue between police and demonstrators who protested against government austerity policies.
Papandreou vowed to speed up structural reforms to tackle the crisis, according to the plan supported by its creditors.
Outlining the government's roadmap to success, Papandreou presented the priorities on the government's agenda in the coming future.
He referred to further initiatives to tackle tax evasion and corruption, reform the political system, the public sector, the Education, Health and Social Security systems and support the most vulnerable groups of society to overcome the crisis through programs against rising unemployment.
In regards to the three-year 50-billion-euro (about 68.26 billion U.S. dollars) privatizations of state-run companies program that has raised strong reactions in Greece, he argued that it does not represent only a way to slash deficits, but a major vehicle to boost development.
During his address, the Greek prime minister also pledged more focus on efforts to strengthen entrepreneurship, investments and competitiveness through the liberalization of professions and markets, the reduction of red-tape in licensing of businesses and the restructure local banking system.
Referring to the prospects of the Greek tourism industry for instance as a model of growth, he stressed that Greece focuses on new markets, such as China and India.
Regarding the energy sector, Papandreou said that Greece will soon start research for oil and natural gas south of the island of Crete and at the Ionion Sea on the western part of the country.
"I call on everyone to join the effort to turn the crisis into an opportunity for a better future. United we can succeed," he said in his closing remark, as political opponents and local media analysts in the first reactions to the address expressed doubts over the final outcome.