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Juncker: Eurozone crisis not over

The European Commission’s president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that Europe has yet to beat the eurozone crisis. In his visit to Greece, the former Luxembourg premier praised Athens’ efforts to rein in its debt.

Juncker, who is visiting Greece for the first time since his election to Europe's top post, played down the option of writing off a part of Athen's eurozone loans to make the southern European country's debt more manageable.

"When it comes to Greece, the question you're mentioning is not part of my meditation," Juncker told reporters after talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in Athens.

However, the former chairman of the eurozone's "eurogroup" body of finance ministers, who succeeds Jose Manuel Barroso in November, praised Greece's efforts to improve public finances. In a show of support for the struggling nation, Juncker said that Greece could be an example for debt-stricken nations to follow.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund have twice bailed out Greece, whose economy is now showing signs of improvement after nearly crashing out of the euro in 2012. But the country still needs further debt relief, talks on which are expected to commence later this year.

Greece's economy has sharply improved in recent months and is expected to return to growth this year after a six-year-long recession.

‘Not yet out of the tunnel'

Juncker, however, cautioned that the eurozone crisis had not completely ended, saying there was no room for complacency.

"We have covered a huge distance but we have not yet reached the end," he said. "Certainly, many developments, events show us how fragile the situation is not only in Greece but elsewhere. But there are also positive signs, also in Portugal."

On Sunday, Brussels approved a Portuguese government rescue worth some 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) for the ailing Portuguese bank Banco Espirito Santo (BES). Lisbon called the rescue a bid to "restore confidence in financial stability" and protect the broader Portuguese economy.

Junker said the situation in Portugal remained "fragile," calling for continued vigilance in the eurozone.

"I fully trust Portuguese authorities that they will solve the problem they are facing in the financial sector," Juncker said.

Juncker, whose presidency was opposed by Britain, reiterated that he would push for growth and investment in Europe as part of his new role.

shs/msh (AP, AFP)