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Greek Bailout Talks in High Gear       07/31 06:13

   Greece's talks with its international creditors on a third bailout worth 85 
billion euros ($93 billion) shifted into a higher gear on Friday, with lead 
negotiators from the European Union and International Monetary Fund meeting key 
ministers in Athens.

   ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece's talks with its international creditors on a 
third bailout worth 85 billion euros ($93 billion) shifted into a higher gear 
on Friday, with lead negotiators from the European Union and International 
Monetary Fund meeting key ministers in Athens.

   The talks with Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and Economy Minister 
Giorgos Stathakis follow preparatory meetings in the Greek capital this week 
between lower-level officials on reforming the tax system and labor market 
regulations.

   The third bailout will include a new punishing round of austerity measures 
heaped on a country reeling from a six-year recession and more than 25 percent 
unemployment. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has pledged to back the new 
cutbacks, while openly admitting that he disagrees with them.

   "We will implement them, yes, because we are forced to," he said in 
parliament Friday. "But at the same time we will struggle to change them, to 
improve them and to counter their negative consequences."

   The bailout talks with the IMF, European Commission, European Central Bank 
and European Stability Mechanism must be concluded before Aug. 20. That's when 
a debt repayment to the ECB worth more than 3 billion euros is due --- money 
which Greece does not have.

   Friday's meetings came hours after Tsipras defeated a bid by dissenters in 
his left-wing Syriza party to push for an end to bailout negotiations and seek 
a return to the old national currency, the drachma.

   The party's governing central committee backed a proposal by Tsipras to hold 
an emergency party conference in September, after the talks have been concluded.

   Dissenters had sought a conference earlier, pressing the government to 
abandon the negotiations.

   Tsipras effectively lost his majority in parliament in a vote three weeks 
ago, when nearly one-fourth of Syriza's lawmakers refused to back new austerity 
measures, arguing that the party has betrayed the anti-austerity platform that 
got it elected in January.

   "This country no long has democracy, but a peculiar type of totalitarianism 
--- a dictatorship of the euro," prominent dissenter Panagiotis Lafazanis said.

   Pro-European Union opposition parties were left to save the bill and have 
continued to prop up his government, while Tsipras has taken no disciplinary 
action against dissenters.

   "We have to agree that we can't go on this way," Tsipras told the committee 
members during a 12-hour meeting. He added that "the absurdity of this strange 
and unprecedented dualism" within the party must stop.

   Later Friday, Tsipras defended his flamboyant former finance minister, Yanis 
Varoufakis, who came under heavy fire over claims he made --- and confirmed 
after they were leaked --- that he had drafted contingency plans for a parallel 
payment system that could have eased a euro exit.

   "Of course I issued personal instructions to the finance minister to create 
a team that would work on a plan of defense in the event of a national 
emergency," Tsipras told parliament, answering a question from the opposition. 
"It would have been politically naive and irresponsible not to do so. Does that 
mean ... that I was seeking an emergency?"

   Tsipras did not directly address Varoufakis' more controversial claim that 
he had been planning to hack into his own ministry's tax records to bypass 
officials allegedly under the control of Greece's creditors. Varoufakis had 
alleged that the aim would have been to create a parallel banking system to 
deal with a potential closure of the country's banks.

   But Tsipras defended the former minister's integrity.

   "Mr Varoufakis may have made mistakes," he said. "You can accuse him as much 
as you want for his political plans, for the comments he made, for not wearing 
tasteful shirts, for going on holiday to (the island of ) Aegina," during a key 
parliamentary vote. "But you can't accuse him of dishonesty."


(KA)


 
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