Greek PM says on final stretch toward deal with lenders

Sat May 23, 2015 9:35am EDT
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By George Georgiopoulos

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday his government was on the final stretch of negotiations with its international lenders on a cash-for-reforms deal that would not involve further pension cuts and harsh austerity.

After four months of talks with its euro zone partners and the International Monetary Fund, Athens is scrambling for a deal that could release up to 7.2 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in remaining aid to avert bankruptcy as it remains shut out of bond markets.

Talks have stumbled over pensions, labor reform, fiscal targets and increases in value-added tax.

"We are on the final stretch of a painful and tough period shaped by the government's negotiations with the institutions," Tsipras, back from an EU summit in Riga, told his party's central committee.

Tsipras, who flew to Riga to press German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande for a political push to break the impasse, faces potential challenges from the hard-left faction in his Syriza party which opposes any deal that would involve further belt-tightening.

"Rest assured that in this negotiation we will not accept humiliating terms," Tsipras said. "The overwhelming majority of Greek people want a solution and not just an agreement ... it supports the government in this tough negotiation."

He lashed out at some lenders' representatives who, he said, were using his country's financial asphyxiation as a lever to undermine an accord reached on Feb. 20, under which Athens committed to present a new reform plan.

"We will not yield to irrational demands on VAT, pension and labor market issues when the architects of the most unsuccessful program in the IMF's history of rescue programs insist on extreme (measures) to not admit their failure," Tsipras said.   Continued...

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech at the annual conference of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises in Athens May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis