Greek PM tears into lenders as euro zone prepares for 'Grexit'

Tue Jun 16, 2015 4:28pm EDT
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By Lefteris Papadimas and Erik Kirschbaum

ATHENS/BERLIN (Reuters) - Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused Greece's creditors on Tuesday of trying to "humiliate" Greeks with more cuts as he defied a growing drumbeat of warnings that Europe was preparing for his country to leave the euro.

The unrepentant address to lawmakers after the collapse of talks with European and IMF lenders at the weekend was the clearest sign yet that the leftist leader has no intention of making a last-minute U-turn and accepting austerity cuts needed to unlock frozen aid and avoid a debt default within two weeks.

Financial markets, for months indifferent to wrangling over releasing billions of euros of aid for Greece, reacted with mounting alarm.

European stock markets hit their lowest level since February and the risk premium on bonds of other vulnerable euro zone states leapt in one of the sharpest episodes of contagion since the height of Europe's debt crisis in 2012.

The White House warned that agreement was needed to avoid shaking financial markets further and Tsipras assured U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that Athens aimed to bridge the differences with creditors.

But with senior German lawmakers now openly discussing the once-taboo prospect of a "Grexit" from the single currency area, his fiery words suggested confrontation rather than reconciliation.

"I'm certain future historians will recognise that little Greece, with its little power, is today fighting a battle beyond its capacity not just on its own behalf but on behalf of the people of Europe," he said in a televised speech to legislators in his Syriza party, drawing loud applause.

Tsipras charged that the lenders were politically motivated in demanding pension cuts and tax hikes that hurt the poor, and their aim was to "humiliate not only the Greek government - this would be the least important - but humiliate an entire people".   Continued...

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gestures during a meeting with leader of the centre-left To Potami party Stavros Theodorakis (not pictured) in Maximos Mansion in Athens June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis