Mon, Sep 17, 2012 - Page 15 News List

Athens given time, but not more money

BREATHING ROOM:The troika is devising a cost-neutral extension for Greece to repay its debts, but EU finance ministers were adamant they would not sanction more loans

Reuters, VIENNA and ATHENS

Greece will get more time to repay its debts to international lenders, but will not get more money, Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said in a newspaper interview printed yesterday.

Asked by the Oesterreich newspaper if Athens would get a payment extension, the Austrian minister said: “Yes. We are still awaiting the troika report and Greece still has to get some things on track, but we will achieve a cost neutral extension.”

She gave no further details.

Fekter was referring to a report being compiled by the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank on how well Athens is fulfilling terms on its international rescue package.

Fekter had said at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Cyrpus last week that Greece might be given more time to reach its fiscal targets, but not more money.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has said it was worth considering giving Greece more time to make the cuts demanded of it by its bailout program, something Athens has requested.

International lenders are likely to reach final decisions on the revised financing program for Greece in the second half of next month, Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said.

Meanwhile, Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras hardened his line against the country’s international bailout on Saturday, vowing to fight an austerity round that Athens is negotiating with its lenders.

The 38-year-old leftist said he would mobilize his lawmakers and supporters against the measures to prevent them from causing irreparable harm to Greece’s economy, after more than two years of austerity measures that have slashed wages by one-third.

“The time to stop the catastrophe is now,” Tsipras said in a speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “These measures must not pass. They will deliver the final blow to the people.”

Capitalizing on popular frustration with past cuts, Tsipras’s Syriza party surged from the political fringes to become the second-biggest party in a June election, losing narrowly to conservative Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who now heads a fragile three-party coalition.

Violent demonstrations against past austerity measures contributed to the fall of a Socialist government which negotiated Greece’s first bailout in May 2010.

Greece’s biggest labor unions have called a 24-hour strike against the planned measures for Sept. 26.

The only way for Greece to cope with its spiraling debt was to repudiate a large part of it, Tsipras said: “That’s the only credible and viable way to way to get out of recession.”

He said Greece must work with other indebted European countries and he brushed aside concerns it risked getting kicked out of the euro.

“Nobody in the euro zone has a political motive to force a country to leave,” Tsipras said. “Germany definitely has no such motive.”

In an interview published late on Saturday, Samaras said that exiting the eurozone was not an option for Greece and expressed his commitment and determination to forge ahead with painful reforms.

“We have to make sure that we abide by what we have signed because we believe that what they call ‘Grexit’ [a Greek exit from the eurozone] is not an option for us,” Samaras told the Washington Post.

“It would be a catastrophe,” he added. “In 2013, we are going to have a country in the sixth year of a recession with unemployment above 22 percent and rising. We are here to fulfill our obligations, to meet our targets.”

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