Visiting the island of Syros on Monday, Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed that the government's reform programme was not being dictated by others but adopted because it was absolutely necessary for the country's future.

"These major changes we are making, not with orders from above or outside, are fundamental for our survival," he said during an address at the Ermoupolis Arts Centre, at a meeting of bodies and organisations of the Southern Aegean islands.

Papandreou visited Syros, the headquarters of the southern Aegean region, at the head of a government delegation.

The prime minister underlined that the government's efforts aimed to transform the country from its present state of crisis and gloom and that he would fight for this goal at the March 24-25 summit where the decisions concerning Greece and a permanent European financial support mechanism would be ratified.

According to Papandreou, the decisions were the culmination of a very difficult period, in which the self-denial of the Greek people had borne fruits. He stressed, however, that this was not the end of this effort by only a station along the way.

Among others, the prime minister said that Greece's current problems were symptoms caused by many and complex causes and that the crisis had confirmed the need to make major changes.

In a final address at the end of the meeting, he also noted that the painful measures taken by the government had arrested Greece's course toward defaulting on its debts, which would have been a great deal more catastrophic for the country and resulting in mass lay-offs, business closures and non-payment of salaries and pensions.

"This was a very strong danger signal that if we can turn into an opportunity will be a historic course for the country to put an end to chronic problems," he said.

Papandreou said the aim was to change the country's developmental model along the lines of the Scandinavian model, which combined competitiveness with quality of life, a high level of knowledge and technical expertise, flexibility and security.

Referring to the problems faced by Syros and the Greek islands in general, the prime minister said they had to find ways to convert the 'weaknesses' and difficulties that beset islands into comparative advantages, promising the government's support in this effort.

He pointed out that every islands had huge unexploited potential that could be cultivated, so that they could depend on their own strength rather than loans.

The prime minister's visit to the island was not without incident, however. Groups of students in highschool and tertiary education turned up to protest against the government's policy while the meeting with Syros local government officials was taking place and there were clashes with police, who used tear gas to drive them off.

Papandreou had begun his visit to the island by visiting the shipyard at Neorio and then visited the islands Chamber of Industry and Commerce, where he took part in a teleconference with the chambers of the other Cyclades islands.