Greek conservatives promise lower taxes

Greece's conservatives on Thursday promised voters tax relief if they win a crucial general election, insisting that existing austerity measures can be made fairer, despite growing concern over the country's future in the euro.

The debt-strapped country will hold its second election in six weeks on June 17. It was called after the center-right New Democracy party won a May 6 poll but was unable to form a coalition government.

The conservatives are roughly level with the leftwing anti-bailout Syriza party in recent opinion polls.

"Our pledge is jobs, jobs, jobs. ... No new taxes and no new cross-the-board cuts. The era of taxing incomes that do not exist is over," conservative leader Antonis Samaras told a meeting of business officials in Athens, presenting New Democracy's economic program.

Greece's election law awards the winning party a bonus of 50 seats — intensifying the rivalry between the conservatives and Syriza, which has proposed canceling austerity measures made as part of rescue loan agreements.

Samaras said that pledge would cause a Greek exit from the euro and "certain catastrophe."

"They are like children playing with matches in the arsenal. They want a return to the days of the big state and international isolation," he said.

The austerity measures have pushed Greece to a fifth year of recession, with a dramatic rise in unemployment and poverty among low-income sections of the country.

Samaras insisted it is possible to improve cost-cutting reforms without sabotaging Greece's loan deals. He promised to restore benefits to low-income families to 2009 levels, and to extend unemployment benefits from one year to two.

"Our measures will stop the country suffocating," he said. "The unilateral cancellation of agreements will lead us out of the euro. Our measures will have European support. Theirs will cause isolation from Europe."