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Chinese prime minister visits site of Chinese investment in major Greek port of Piraeus

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, center left, shows the way to his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang during their visit at the port of Piraeus, where Chinese shipping giant Cosco controls two of the three container terminals, on Friday June 20, 2014. Li is in Greece on a three day official visit during which both sides are expected to sign bilateral agreements. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Pool)

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Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, center left, shows the way to his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang during their visit at the port of Piraeus, where Chinese shipping giant Cosco controls two of the three container terminals, on Friday June 20, 2014. Li is in Greece on a three day official visit during which both sides are expected to sign bilateral agreements. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Pool)

ATHENS, Greece - Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visited Friday Greece's largest port of Piraeus, where his country has made a big investment, as part of a three-day trip focusing on business deals.

China's Cosco has a concession to operate two of three container terminals in Piraeus, one of the largest foreign investments in the country and one which Greece hopes will transform the country into a regional transportation hub.

"The port of Piraeus can become China's entry gate into Europe," Li said. "The port of Piraeus is like the pearl in the Mediterranean."

Li and his Greek counterpart, Antonis Samaras, inaugurated a rail link that will transport goods from the Cosco terminal to central Europe, with Li describing Piraeus as "one of the most competitive ports in the world."

Eighty 80 per cent of China's import and export trade with Europe is done by sea, and the use of Piraeus has reduced the average trip via the Suez Canal by between seven and 11 days, Li said, adding that the Cosco project has created thousands of jobs for Greeks.

Speaking later in the day, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said China had shown interest in further investment in the country, including in international airports in Athens and the southern island of Crete.

Greece, struggling to end a prolonged, deep recession and dependent on international rescue loans since mid-2010, is desperate to attract investment.

The economy has been under the strict supervision of the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, with successive governments making spending cuts, tax hikes and reforms to qualify for the bailout funds.

"Greece is now a reliable and highly attractive investment destination," Samaras said. "Thanks to the sacrifices of the Greek people, and thanks to the support of our friends and partners, Greece today is emerging from the painful crisis of the last five years."

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