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August 22, 2018

Tsipras hails end of bailout ‘Odyssey’


August 22, 2018

ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on Tuesday a "day of redemption" as he hailed the end of his country’s eight-year "Odyssey" of painful bailouts.

"Today is a day of redemption, but it is also the start of a new era," Tsipras said in a pre-recorded televised speech from the Ionian island of Ithaca, believed to be the home of Homer’s hero Ulysses.

And his speech was packed with references to the monsters and perils of the Homeric epic. Speaking a day after Greece’s third and final bailout ended, Tsipras said the country had "won back the right to determine its own fortunes and future" after living through a "modern-day Odyssey" during the crisis.

Standing on a cliff overlooking the island harbour in an open-necked white shirt, he said Greece had adopted 65 billion euros ($75 billion) worth of austerity measures and had lived in a "constant state of emergency."

The embattled 44-year-old PM is seeking to rebound from poor ratings exacerbated by last month’s wildfires near Athens that have left nearly 100 people dead. Trailing the conservative opposition by over 10 points, Tsipras is now rumoured to be planning a cabinet reshuffle.

Elections are still over a year away, but there is speculation Tsipras may call them early in 2019. Although Greece’s final bailout officially ended Monday, experts warn that the country’s challenges are far from over. The European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund loaned debt-wracked Greece a total of 289 billion euros ($330 billion) in three successive programmes in 2010, 2012 and 2015.

The country may have achieved budget surpluses excluding debt repayments of around four percent in 2016 and 2017, but that came at the cost of crippling taxation, and its hands remain tied on social welfare spending.

Greece has already legislated new pension and tax break cuts for 2019 and 2020 and will remain under international supervision for several years. The country has regained some credibility, but Greek households continue to feel the effects of unpopular and damaging austerity.

Unemployment has fallen, but still hovers around 20 percent. Tsipras on Tuesday noted that the sacrifices of the bailout years had put Greece’s democracy to the test and bolstered the far-right.

He vowed that Greece would "never return to deficits and bankruptcy." Tsipras’ decision to hold his speech on the island of Ithaca was a throwback to Greece’s first bailout announcement in 2010 by then prime minister George Papandreou. At the time, Papandreou had spoken of a "new Odyssey for Greeks. But now we know the way back to Ithaca, and we have charted the waters."

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