Greek leaders push back decision on austerity cuts
By Harry Papachristou and Lefteris Papadimas
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek coalition leaders agreed to meet next week to hammer out almost 12 billion euros worth of austerity cuts demanded by the near-bankrupt country's lenders after a deal proved elusive at an initial round of talks on Wednesday.
Greek officials have spent the past week scrambling to identify the savings for 2013 and 2014 before European and IMF officials visit next week and decide whether Athens merits another tranche of aid from its latest bailout package.
But final agreement on the cuts is expected only after much bargaining among the three party leaders in the conservative-led government, each of whom is keen to avoid appearing in favor of cuts that heap more misery on austerity-weary voters.
"We had a very good discussion," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters after a three-hour meeting between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his two coalition allies.
"We agreed on the basic direction."
Samaras's allies - Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos and leftist party chief Fotis Kouvelis - emerged after the meeting to reiterate that there would be no new spending cuts this year beyond those already agreed.
Both leaders, who have championed reducing the painful austerity diet of wage and pension cuts, said little about their discussion on future spending cuts other than to say talks would resume in the coming days.
One senior party official said some ministries failed to submit their proposals for cuts ahead of Wednesday's meeting, delaying efforts to finalize them. Only about half of the promised 11.7 billion euros of spending cuts had been identified in the run-up to the meeting, an official said this week. Continued...