Sep 6, 6:04 AM EDT

Greek premier eyes growth for 1st time in 8 years

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece's economy is expected to expand in the third quarter for the first time in eight years, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said Saturday.

In a speech in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Samaras hailed what he said was an "unprecedented success" in getting the heavily indebted country out of its deepest ever financial crisis.

"In a couple of years, we have made more reforms than in previous decades," he said, referring to his tenure as prime minister.

Before agreeing to support a coalition government with the socialists in November 2011, conservative leader Samaras had opposed many of the austerity measures he later embraced wholeheartedly.

Samaras promised a 30 percent reduction in the taxation of heating oil, reversing a measure imposed in 2012 which failed to bring added revenue and adversely affected the environment. He also said he would lighten the burden of a much decried property tax based on property values from before the crisis.

The Greek premier also said he will set up a development fund to help small and medium firms and will cut power prices for industries.

Samaras said it is impossible to bring wages and pensions up to pre-crisis levels but promised raises for military and police personnel, seen as a conservative-friendly constituency.

Samaras was speaking at the opening of the Thessaloniki International Fair, a traditional venue for Greek leaders to announce the coming year's economic policy.

The Greek premier also hailed what he said was a success in reforming health, social security and education by cutting excessive spending and combatting fraud.

Anti-government protests, a usual staple of the Thessaloniki fair, will take place Saturday but are expected to be milder than in previous years. Nonetheless, 4,000 policemen are ready and there has been a ban on protests near the fair grounds.

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