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Greek PM stresses urgency of austerity deal

01 october 2012, 10:43
0
Greece's Prime minister Antonis Samaras (L) shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. ©AFP
Greece's Prime minister Antonis Samaras (L) shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. ©AFP
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stressed the urgency of sealing an austerity pact ahead of crucial talks Monday between Greek officials and the so-called troika of international creditors, AFP reports.

In comments to the centre-left weekly newspaper To Vima Sunday, Samaras said his nation's financial system was desperate for a cash injection which would only be released once the austerity deal was finalised.

"The Greek economy awaits this money like the parched earth awaits the rain," he told To Vima. The lack of credit was threatening even healthy businesses with closure, he said.

Senior representatives from the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank -- the troika -- returned to Athens on Sunday.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is due to meet them Monday.

The trio had given Samaras's coalition government a week to finalise the austerity package worth 13.5 billion euros ($17.5 billion) in order to unlock 31.5 billion euros in frozen EU-IMF loans.

The measures "must be finalised and voted on within a few days ... there can be no delay," said Samaras, who has just completed his first 100 days heading an alliance between the socialists and the moderate left.

The support funds, part of a Greek bailout worth 130 billion euros overall, had been suspended in May when reforms ground to a halt as the country needed two legislative elections before a government could be formed.

Samaras is trying to overcome resistance from the socialist and moderate leftist allies in government, who have balked at imposing sweeping new cuts on a nation already slogging through a third year of austerity.

They have urged the conservative PM to extract as many concessions as possible from the troika.

In particular they want a two-year extension to 2016 to ease out the fiscal overhaul, which Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, one of the three coalition partners, said was important to reduce the impact of the measures.

After weeks of abortive talks, Stournaras on Friday said the coalition had agreed the main points of the austerity package, which now required the approval of the troika and of Greece's EU peers.

Samaras told To Vima he was optimistic the EU would approve the plan, and several German news outlets said Saturday Europe would give the green light to release the extra cash.

"Things are going to get better," Samaras said.

Eurozone finance ministers are meeting October 8, and an EU summit on October 18 and 19 is expected to decide on the Greek request for the two-year extension, which EU and IMF officials say may require extra funding.

According to a Greek finance ministry source, the package includes seven billion euros in cuts affecting pensions, benefits and the salaries of better-paid civil servants such as judges, professors and police officers.

Another 3.5 billion euros is to be saved from organisational reforms and early retirement for 15,000 civil servants and three billion euros is to be raised in additional taxes.

The package was presented by the head of Greece's financial experts team, Panos Tsakloglou, at a euro working group meeting in Brussels on Thursday, the finance ministry source told AFP.

It is to be submitted alongside the draft 2013 budget to parliament on Monday.

Doctors, lawyers, journalists, teachers and even state security staff have staged strikes and walkouts this month against the new measures.

After two years of austerity, nearly one in four Greeks is unemployed according to official figures, which unions say only give a partial picture.

On Wednesday, police clashed with masked youths in Athens during a general strike and demonstrations that drew some 34,000 people to the city centre.

Another 18,000 people protested in the northern city of Thessaloniki according to police.

Meanwhile Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico made it clear Sunday he was losing patience with Athens.

"If Greece isn't able meet its obligations, there should be a controlled exit," Fico told Markiza TV.

"Right now I think that Greece is not meeting its obligations, asking for more exceptions and more time," he added.

Having joined the EU in 2004 and the eurozone in 2009, Slovakia imposed harsh austerity measures to keep its own public finances on track during the economic crisis.

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