June 22, 2018 / 11:26 AM / 5 months ago

It's a tie! Greek PM marks debt deal with sartorial twist

(This version of the story was refiled to fix a typographical error in the headline)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, wearing a tie, waves before a speech at the parliamentary group of Syriza and Independent Greeks in Athens, Greece June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

By Michele Kambas and Angeliki Koutantou

ATHENS (Reuters) - After long insisting he would only wear a neck tie when Greece’s debt problem was settled, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras duly did so on Friday, after euro zone peers offered debt relief that marks a turn away from the country’s long crisis.

The 43-year-old sported a burgundy number — briefly — when addressing an evening meeting of political allies in Athens, a break from the open-necked or polo shirts he usually favors.

“Today is an important day for all, but primarily it belongs to those who for eight years were viciously hit by the crisis, for those who saw a lifetime of toils destroyed and those who carried the burden for the country,” Tsipras said.

Euro zone finance ministers offered Greece a 10-year deferral and maturities extension on a large chunk of past loans as well as 15 billion euros in new credit to ensure Athens can stand on its own feet after it exits its bailout in August.

Debt relief has been an overarching objective of Tsipras’s administration since he swept to power in 2015. Greece has a debt mountain equivalent to almost 180 percent of gross domestic product, the highest in the 19-country euro zone.

Greeks have seen their economy shrink by a quarter, unemployment spike and salaries and pensions slashed by about 40 percent since first falling into crisis in 2010. The country has required three international bailouts.

“Bets are made to be won,” a smiling Tsipras told the meeting of lawmakers from left-wing Syriza and right-wing Independent Greeks which make up the governing coalition. “It’s a bit difficult (wearing the tie) but I will get used to it.”

But he publicly removed it about half an hour later. “I fulfilled the bet, I put the tie on but all these years I gave battle without a tie,” he said, holding the garment aloft.

Tsipras’ sartorial choices have been the subject of gentle ribbing from his peers and foreign leaders over the years.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan looked puzzled at their first encounter and asked him bluntly where his tie was, while European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker once offered to give Tsipras his.

On Sunday, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev removed his red tie and gave it to Tsipras during a ceremony marking the signing of an accord on a name dispute between the two countries.

Some were not impressed by Tsipras’ new attire, however. “The noose around the neck of Greeks remains,” said Fofi Gennimata, head of Socialist PASOK party.

Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Catherine Evans

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