Greece averts immediate default, markets skeptical

Fri Mar 9, 2012 6:08pm EST
 
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By George Georgiopoulos and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece averted the immediate threat of an uncontrolled default on Friday, winning strong acceptance from its private creditors for a bond swap deal which will eat into its mountainous public debt and clear the way for a new bailout.

With euro zone ministers set to approve the 130 billion euro ($172 billion) rescue, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared the Greek problem had been settled - just as Germany said that any impression the crisis was over "would be a big mistake."

Markets sharply marked down the value of new Greek bonds to be issued to the creditors, reflecting the risk of paralysis after elections expected this spring and doubts about whether Athens can bring its debt to a more manageable level by 2020.

Sarkozy, who is trailing his socialist challenger for the presidency before France's own elections in April and May, pronounced the Greek deal a major success.

"Today the problem is solved," he said in the southern French city of Nice. "A page in the financial crisis is turning."

Euro zone finance ministers held a teleconference call and were expected to declare Athens had met the tough terms of the bailout, its second since 2010, and to authorize the release of funds which the country needs to meet heavy debt repayments later this month and avoid bankruptcy.

On the streets of Athens, some Greeks denounced the deal as a sham that would impose more crippling austerity on a people already enduring pay and pension cuts and soaring unemployment.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was also in a more sombre mood than Sarkozy, issuing a warning to Athens which has a record of failing to meet its promises of reform and austerity made to international lenders.   Continued...

 
Greece's Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos addresses reporters during a news conference in Athens March 9, 2012. Greece averted the immediate risk of an uncontrolled default on Friday, winning strong acceptance from its private creditors for a bond swap deal which will eat into its mountainous public debt and clear the way for a new international bailout. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis