Greeks delay bailout talks as Merkel demands action

Mon Feb 6, 2012 5:35pm EST
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By Lefteris Papadimas and Daniel Flynn

ATHENS/PARIS (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Greece Monday to make up its mind fast on accepting the painful terms for a new EU/IMF bailout, but the country's political leaders responded by delaying their decision for yet another day.

Failure to strike a deal to secure the 130 billion euro ($170 billion) rescue - much of which Germany will fund - risks pushing Athens into a chaotic debt default which could threaten its future in the euro zone.

EU officials say the full package must be agreed with Greece and approved by the euro zone, ECB and IMF before February 15 to allow time for complex legal procedures involved in the bond swap to be completed in time for a March 20 bond redemption. In some euro zone countries, including Germany and Finland, parliamentary approval is required to raise the bailout money.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who met the lenders for another round of talks to reach compromise on wage, pension and job cuts, warned the stakes were rising as time ran out.

"A failure of the negotiations, a failure of the program or a default by the country means even greater sacrifices," he said. "Unfortunately, the negotiations are so tough that as soon as one chapter ends another one opens."

Speaking in Paris, Merkel expressed the exasperation spreading among euro zone leaders at seemingly endless arguing in Athens that has yet to produce a definitive acceptance of the austerity and reform conditions demanded by the lenders.

"I honestly can't understand how additional days will help. Time is of the essence. A lot is at stake for the entire euro zone," she told a news conference with President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But leaders of the three parties in the coalition government appeared to need at least one additional day.   Continued...

<p>Demonstrators from the communist-affiliated trade union PAME protest outside the Greek Prime Minister's office in Athens February 4, 2012. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis</p>