• EU-IMF creditors back in Greece for debt talks

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    ATHENS: Creditors from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday began a new audit of Greek finances, with Athens hoping for a deal in two weeks to facilitate its debt repayment needs, a finance ministry source said.

    “The talks begin today,” the source told Agence France-Presse.

    “We want this to be over by March 10 owing to the country’s need to repay maturing debt,” the official added.

    Greece needs to repay 6.6 billion euros ($9.0 billion) in treasury bills by late April, according to the debt management agency.

    Greek state news agency ANA said that there were 8.3 billion euros in eurozone loans and another 3.6 billion euros from IMF loans to be claimed by Athens, pending from last year.

    The so-called “troika” of the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank first bailed out Greece in 2010 with a program worth 110 billion euros.

    When that failed to stabilize the economy, they agreed a much tougher second rescue in 2012 worth 130 billion euros, plus a private sector debt write-off of more than 100 billion euros.

    Greece has struggled to meet the terms of this second package but hopes it has now done enough to satisfy the troika, especially in achieving a “primary budget surplus”—that is, in the black before debt costs.

    Greece said that it achieved a primary surplus of 1.5 billion euros in 2013.

    EU data agency Eurostat is expected to formally announce the size of the surplus in April.

    “I am certain that a deal will be achieved before the next Eurogroup [on March 10],” Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on Saturday after talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

    “The results of sacrifices by the Greek people are extremely impressive. The fiscal adjustment is unique,” said Venizelos, head of the socialist party in the government coalition.

    He added that Greece still had to enact “structural measures, measures that boost competitiveness, modernize the state, open the market.”

    The government has pledged to eliminate regulatory restrictions in food processing, retail trade, building materials and tourism that are “potentially harmful” to competition, according to a study commissioned by Athens last year from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    However, Samaras faces risky local elections in May in which his conservative party’s main rivals, the anti-austerity leftist party Syriza, are poised to score major gains.
    Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday that a leftist government would demand an emergency EU summit on public debt.

    And if Greece were to be denied debt relief, “We will cut off debt service payments, even unilaterally, if necessary to meet the needs of the Greek economy and society,” he told To Vima weekly.

    “However, I do not think this will happen. It’s in nobody’s interest,” Tsipras said.

    AFP

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