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September 23, 2017

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Greece wants new policies, not targets: PM

ATHENS--Greece will meet targets set by international lenders, but needs more time and wants to renegotiate policies that make its fiscal situation worse by preventing a return to economic growth, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Friday.

In his first policy speech since taking office, Samaras outlined his government's priorities before a confidence vote on Sunday. Samaras said his aim was not to demand a change of the goals set in the 130 billion euro bailout deal keeping Greece afloat, but in the austerity policies imposed to meet them.

"We don't want to change the targets," Samaras told parliament. "What needs to change is that which is hampering us from attaining the targets. We want to fight the recession."

The ruling coalition of Samaras's center-right New Democracy party and two center-left groups which emerged after June 17 elections wants to change austerity measures that have hit the poor hardest and stifled an economy shrinking for a fifth year.

Samaras, who was laid low by eye surgery days after being named prime minister, conceded that Greece had missed targets included in its bailout program but promised to do everything to keep the country in the euro.

He outlined an agenda of growth-boosting measures - ranging from speeding up privatizations to tax reform and battling bureaucracy to making the country investment-friendly.

But he lashed out at euro zone partners who have openly said Greece risks leaving the euro if it fails to keep its pledges, saying it was difficult to move ahead with privatizations while foreign leaders publicly discuss such options.

Greece, which is due to run out of cash in weeks without support from the troika of EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank lenders, has fallen behind agreed targets partly due to a two-month political limbo of repeat elections.

It was due to come up with an additional 11.7 billion euros of cuts in June to merit the next loan installment.

Need More Time!

Samaras said it was clear fiscal adjustment would take more than two years, as initially agreed with lenders, repeating a pre-election call to lessen the pain of austerity by getting the troika to extend the period to four years.

"The adjustment must not take place over two years, but longer. And the program misses its targets because of the recession, this is no reason to take more fiscal measures as we have done so far. Recession must be stopped, not continuously deepen," he said.

Greek socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos warned that the country's recession would be deeper than projected this year, and called for extending the deficit-cutting plan to three years, at a meeting with inspectors from the troika.

"Mr. Venizelos insisted on the need to agree on a new, updated medium-term fiscal strategy program," a statement from his office said on Saturday.

"He raised the issue of revising the bailout in line with the procedures foreseen in it and extending the time period of the fiscal adjustment to three years," the statement said.

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