ATHENS Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras hardened his line against the country's international bailout on Saturday, vowing to fight an austerity round that Athens is negotiating with its lenders.
The 38-year-old leftist said he would mobilize his lawmakers and supporters against the measures to prevent them from causing irreparable harm to Greece's economy, after more than two years of austerity measures that have slashed wages by a third.
"The time to stop the catastrophe is now," Tsipras said in a speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki. "These measures must not pass. They will deliver the final blow to the people."
Capitalizing on popular frustration with past cuts, Tsipras's Syriza party surged from the political fringes to become the second-biggest party in a June election, losing narrowly to conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras who now heads a fragile three-party coalition.
Athens is currently negotiating with inspectors from the European Union and International Monetary Fund over new cuts that will further erode household incomes after five consecutive years of recession and unemployment of almost 25 percent.
Exasperated by its poor reform performance so far, lenders are pushing Greece to agree and pass the measures soon if it wants to qualify for further rescue payments and avoid a chaotic bankruptcy that could force it to abandon the euro.
Violent demonstrations against past austerity measures contributed to the fall of a Socialist government which negotiated Greece's first bailout in May 2010. Greece's biggest labor unions have called a 24-hour strike against the planned measures for September 26.
The only way for Greece to cope with its spiraling debt was to repudiate a large part of it, Tsipras said: "That's the only credible and viable way to way to get out of recession."
He said Greece must work with other indebted European countries and he brushed aside concerns it risked getting kicked out of the euro.
"Nobody in the euro zone has a political motive to force a country to leave," Tsipras said. "Germany definitely has no such motive".
The Greek government dismissed Tsipras's promises to repudiate debt and reverse all wage and pension cuts made over the past two years.
"The only thing he didn't clarify is in which currency he will honor his pledges," said government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou.
"At Syriza they're making dreams of printing drachmas."
(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; editing by Andrew Roche)