ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis promised tax cuts and better economic growth prospects in a bid to repair the political damage wrought by last month's destructive forest fires. "I am able to announce a revised growth target of 5.9 percent" for 2021, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a keynote speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair. Official Greek data last week showed the economy growing 3.4 percent between the first and second quarters of 2021, and a better-than-expected 16.2 percent year-on-year, despite partial lockdowns.

And Greek authorities look forward to positive tourism takings in July and August being reflected in the third quarter data. Mitsotakis ruled out another pandemic lockdown in the fall, stressing: "The economy and society will not shut down again." The PM also announced new tax cuts, benefits for green energy and digital investment, and an initiative to encourage youth employment. "Greeks are now paying less tax across the board," he said.

Three years after Greece exited its last international bailout, nearly one in three Greeks under 24 is unemployed. Halfway through his four-year term, Mitsotakis has seen his conservative party's ratings flag after wildfires destroyed over 100,000 hectares of forest, farmland and crops around the country. Just before his speech, police fired tear gas and water cannon at anti-vaccine and anarchist demonstrators who tried to approach the fair venue. Around 9,000 people took part in protests, police said, against the government's vaccine policy and recent labor laws on overtime and strikes.


Though Mitsotakis is more popular than rival leaders, his New Democracy party's lead over the leftist Syriza party fell to 10.1 percent in August from between 12.8 and 16.5 percent in July. The latest poll, in Ta Nea daily, found nearly 55 percent of respondents disagreed with the government's policies on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 14,000 people in Greece have died from causes related to the pandemic. Over half of the country's 11 million residents have been fully vaccinated.

There has been opposition to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination of all health workers, who are threatened with suspension unless they comply. Over 5,000 health staff have been sidelined so far, including some 500 doctors according to the health ministry. Tougher air, sea and rail transport restrictions also come into effect today, with the unvaccinated no longer entitled to free testing. They will also be barred from indoor dining and entertainment unless they can furnish a negative test, or proof of recent COVID recovery.

Mitsotakis has also been criticized for a recent reshuffle in which he entrusted the health ministry to a former far-right lawyer who has expressed strongly anti-migrant views. Upon becoming minister, Thanos Plevris-the son of a prominent Greek Holocaust denier-rejected having any "anti-Semitic sentiments". Alongside the ministers for interior and development, Plevris is now the third cabinet member appointed by Mitsotakis among defectors from the far-right Laos party in 2012. - AFP