Greek PM Tsipras reshapes cabinet in bid to speed up reform

November 4, 2016 4:26 PM EDT

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waits to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at his office at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece November 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis


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By Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised "brighter days" on Saturday after a cabinet reshuffle aimed at speeding up reforms Athens has agreed to implement under its latest international bailout deal and to shore up his government's popularity.

But Tsipras signaled he would stick to the fiscal course agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund by keeping Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos in his post.

Greece wants to wrap up a review on labor reforms and fiscal issues swiftly to qualify for more debt relief and for inclusion in the European Central Bank's bond buying program. This will help it to regain bond market access by 2018, when its current bailout program expires.

"We have the opportunity for a new start that will give us the necessary impetus for the last critical steps of a marathon leading us to brighter days," Tsipras told reporters after his new cabinet was sworn in on Saturday.

Tsipras switched his ministers around in the rejig late on Friday, but brought few new faces to his cabinet.

The conservative opposition New Democracy party called the reshuffle a "recycling of the same corrupt faces".

"For Greece and its citizens, there are no prospects by this dangerous government," Spokesman George Koumoutsakos said.

Tsipras appointed Dimitris Liakos, the chief of his economic office and a former fund manager, as the minister responsible for the implementation of Greece's bailout program.

To appease the creditors who have accused Greece of foot-dragging in selling state assets, Tsipras replaced Energy Minister Panos Skourletis, who has openly opposed some privatizations, with George Stathakis, currently the economy minister. Skourletis was moved to the Interior Ministry.

Shipping Minister Thodoris Dritsas was replaced by Panagiotis Kouroublis, currently the interior minister. The shipping ministry oversees the privatization of Greek ports.

The head of Greece's privatization agency, Stergios Pitsiorlas, was named deputy minister under Dimitris Papadimitrou, economist and president of the Levy Economics Institute, who was appointed economy and development minister.

CABINET TIDY UP

Effie Achtsioglou, a 31-year-old Labour Ministry official who participated in the negotiations with the foreign lenders, was appointed labor minister.

"The prime minister tidied up his cabinet," head of Alco polling agency Costas Panagopoulos said.

"This scheme seems more capable to fulfil the country's international obligations."

Tsipras set up stand-alone ministries to handle tourism - the economy's key driver - and the crucial issue of migration, as Europe struggles with its worst migrant crisis in decades and thousands are stranded in the cash-strapped country.

Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas kept his post, along with the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and tourism. Greece is expected to return to growth in 2017, an event which Tsipras hopes will convince Greeks that their sacrifices are paying off.

Tsipras' closest aide and adviser Nikos Pappas - who as state minister oversaw an auction on television licenses that was annulled by a top court, was appointed minister of digital governance and media.

Tsipras was first elected in January 2015 promising to end years of austerity, but he reversed course six months later and signed up to a new bailout, Greece's third aid program since the country's debt crisis broke out in 2010.

He was re-elected in September last year, but his popularity ratings have been dropping for months and his Syriza party has been trailing the conservative New Democracy party.

(Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alexander Smith)



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