* PM Samaras says 2013 slump to be milder than forecast
* Says Greece to meet fiscal targets, economy will grow in
* EU/IMF lenders project 4.2 pct slump in 2013; 0.6 pct
growth in 2014
* Anti-austerity rallies in Thessaloniki planned for 1500
By Lefteris Papadimas and Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS, Sept 7 Greece's economic pain will ease
in 2014 as it exits a recession that will be less acute than
forecast this year, helping the country meet its bailout
targets, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Saturday.
The country is struggling through a six-year slump that has
shrunk its economy by more than a quarter, left more than one in
four of the workforce jobless, pushed up poverty levels and
shuttered thousands of businesses.
The European Union and International Monetary Fund, which
have bailed the country out with two multi-billion euro rescue
packages, project gross domestic product will shrink 4.2 percent
this year after contracting 6.4 percent in 2012.
But Samaras, addressing an annual trade fair in Greece's
second city of Thessaloniki, said the 2013 slump would be
"smaller than forecast". He promised Greeks worn down by the
country's worst post-war crisis a return to growth next year.
In a speech branded "delirious" by the leftist opposition
Syriza party ahead of planned anti-austerity rallies in the
city, Samaras said: "This year was the hardest, the most
crucial, and it turned out to be the most successful.
"It was the hardest... because Greece paid for all the sins
of the past".
In a sign the country's long slump may indeed be bottoming
out, data this week showed the economy shrank 3.8 percent in the
second quarter, helped by a rebound in tourism. That was the
narrowest annual decline in nearly three years.
Greece's lenders expect a return to anaemic growth of 0.6
percent in 2014 for an economy that has slumped 23 percent since
2008, while austerity measures have crippled private consumption
and unemployment risen to 27 percent.
The lenders expect that rate to edge down to 26 percent next
year, and economic growth to pick up faster after 2015.
'LIKE A THIEF'
Samaras said Athens would beat this year's main fiscal
target of achieving a surplus on its primary budget, which
excludes debt financing, allowing it to seek further debt relief
from its euro zone partners.
"Greece is sticking to its promises and attaining its goals.
The only thing needed is for our lenders to also keep their
promises," he said.
Excluded from financial markets since 2010, Greece has been
kept afloat solely with 240 billion euros in loans and, under
the current programme, will be financed until the second half of
2014. The IMF and Greece estimate that Athens will need an extra
10-11 billion euros in 2014-2015.
The euro zone is likely to agree to further financing in
November, after the "troika" of EU, ECB and IMF inspectors, due
in Athens on Sept 22, finish an assessment of its efforts to
carry out painful reforms.
The reforms include selling off state assets and a deeply
divisive plan for a transfer and layoff scheme for 25,000 public
workers - mainly teachers and municipal police - that has
triggered marches, rallies and strikes in protest.
Dozens of municipal police officers holding banners reading
"No to firings!" rallied outside the hall where Samaras was
speaking. About 4,000 police officers were deployed to the
As he did last year, Samaras broke with tradition and made
only a brief appearance to inaugurate the prominent event rather
than making the customary annual economic policy speech
delivered by his predecessors.
"Like a thief at TIF (Thessaloniki International Fair)," the
leftist Avgi newspaper screamed on its front page on Saturday.
He was due to return to Athens later on Saturday before
anti-austerity groups and workers unions, among them
municipality employees, fire brigade and coast guard workers,
take to the city's streets.
Syriza accused Samaras of being out of touch with the
reality of 1.5 million jobless Greeks.
"The main question the prime minister left hanging was if he
knows which country he lives in," Syriza said.