June 5, 2015 / 6:06 AM / 2 years ago

EU/IMF stance may force Greece into early elections: deputy minister

A European Union flag (L) and a Greek national flag flutter as the ancient Parthenon temple is seen in the background in Athens June 1, 2015.Alkis Konstantinidis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's leftist-led government may resort to early elections if its international lenders do not soften their terms for a cash-for-reforms deal, Deputy Social Security Minister Dimitris Stratoulis, a hardliner in the government, said on Friday.

Stratoulis is close to the far-left faction of the ruling Syriza party, and it was not clear if his statement represented a wider view within the movement. But it underlined the deep anger at the proposals from lenders and a growing sense that the party will seek alternatives to avoid accepting the plan.

"The lenders want to impose hard measures. If they do not back down from this package of blackmail, the government ... will have to seek alternative solutions, elections," he told Antenna TV.

Greece delayed a 300-million-euro debt payment to the International Monetary Fund due on Friday as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, facing fury among his leftist supporters, demanded changes to tough terms from the EU/IMF creditors for aid to stave off default.

It was the first time in five years of crisis that Greece has postponed a repayment on its 240-billion-euro bailouts from euro zone governments and the IMF, even though Tsipras said earlier this week that Athens would make the payment.

Stratoulis said the government opted to delay the payment to see whether lenders back off from the harsh terms they have put on the table. The government has rejected benefit cuts and tax rises the EU and IMF want before they release fresh loans to avert bankruptcy.

"The government's move is a message that it wants to wait and see how far they (lenders) will take it, if they will back off from this unreasonable, inhumane, colonialist package they are proposing, he said.

He said Syriza had pledged to "fight the battle" for a respectable deal with lenders inside the euro but if this leads to an impasse, the people will have to decide.

"If this seems impossible or very difficult because lenders choose to keep us under a status quo of a colony, a protectorate, inside the euro zone and not as an equal partner, then the sovereign people will have to decide through elections," he added.

Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Deepa Babington

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