By DEREK GATOPOULOS and NICHOLAS PAPHITIS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) â¿¿ Greece's prime minister on Tuesday promised an austerity-weary nation that 2013 will bring the first signs of economic recovery after a punishing five-year recession, and held out hope that pending tax reforms will reduce the burden on lower earners.
Antonis Samaras said last week's new debt relief deal with international creditors â¿¿ on whose loans the country has depended for more than two years â¿¿ has "finally" killed fears that Greece could be forced to abandon the club of European nations that share the euro currency.
To secure two bailouts and the new debt concessions from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, Greece imposed drastic spending cuts and tax increases that slashed incomes and contributed to an economic output slump of more than 20 percent. Health, education and welfare funds were slashed, and unemployment has reached 25 percent."2013 is a turning point," Samaras told a business conference in Athens. "For the first time we will see signs of recovery." The government has said it expects a return to growth in 2014. Samaras said last week's deal with creditors in Brussels, which hinges on a â¿¬10 billion ($13 billion) debt buyback drive this week, affords Greece "a single chance ... which we must not squander â¿¿ because it will be the last." Samaras denied press reports his three-party coalition is planning to slap a 45 percent income tax rate on people earning more than â¿¬25,000 ($32,000) a year, saying a draft of new tax legislation would lower the burden on that income bracket and pledging a gradual reduction in rates as deficit-cutting measures take effect. Finance Ministry figures released Tuesday said Greece has achieved a primary surplus â¿¿ which excludes spending on debt servicing â¿¿ of â¿¬2.3 billion ($3 billion) in the first 10 months of 2012, compared to a â¿¬4.2 billion ($5.5 billion) shortfall a year ago.