Greek PM Meets Hollande, Merkel

Greek PM Meets Hollande, Merkel

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with the leaders of France and Germany on Friday as talks on getting his country more loans were due to extend into the weekend ahead of a debt deadline looming next week.

With Greece facing a potential debt default on Tuesday, European leaders have demanded finance ministers from eurozone countries reach an agreement on Saturday on the reforms Greece needs to make to unfreeze its bailout loans.

Meeting on the sidelines of a European summit, Tsipras told German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande that Greece "doesn't understand the insistence of the institutions on such harsh measures," a Greek government official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said negotiations would continue in Brussels after the end of the summit.

Talks have stumbled on what economic reforms Greece must make in return for the remaining 7.2 billion euros in its international bailout program. Without the loans, the country faces bankruptcy and potentially having to leave Europe's joint currency, the euro. That would likely plunge the country back into a deep and long recession and shake European and global markets.

Although both sides have given way on some issues, according to leaked documents of proposed deals on either side, differences remain between Athens and its creditor negotiators — the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission.

The IMF in particular has criticized the reforms Greece proposed as being too tax-heavy and not containing enough spending cuts. For its part, Athens says it will not accept further cuts to pensions and salaries.

Tsipras, elected in January on promises to repeal the deep austerity measures imposed on the country in return for two bailouts totaling 240 billion euros, has been adamant he will not agree to more recessionary measures.

With the European part of Greece's bailout expiring on Tuesday, and with it the country's potential access to the remaining funds, time is running out.

"It really has to happen tomorrow," said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the 19 eurozone finance ministers' meetings known as the eurogroup, said of a potential deal. Any agreement, he noted, would have to go through the parliaments of Greece and several other eurozone countries, meaning the weekend is the latest possible time for a deal to be reached before June 30.

Greek officials have said all possibilities remain open in Greece's deadlocked talks with its creditors in Brussels, including that of not reaching an agreement, government officials said Friday.

In the current climate of the talks, with creditors insisting on draconian budget savings "the chances are very small" for an agreement, Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said on the private Mega television channel.

Dijsselbloem said a package was needed "that gets Greece back on its feet." He noted that investors had left the country and said many no longer had faith in the government.

"The trust has to return and that requires a deal, it requires a number of reforms and they will have to accept that," Dijsselbloem said as he headed into a Dutch cabinet meeting.

"It is not a question of having it imposed from outside, but if you don't realize that yourself, if they don't feel that there are a number of necessary measures, then we will never agree."

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, speaking to Irish radio RTE, said Greece had "bent over backwards to accommodate some rather strange demands by the institutions. It is now up to them to come to the party."

He said there was a "moral duty" to reach an agreement.

"Our commitment to remain in the eurozone is absolute," Varoufakis said. However, he added, as a debtor nation "I think I have a duty not to take on more loan tranches unless there is some prospect that these debts will be repaid."

"So when I'm asked to put my signature on the bottom line of an agreement which is clearly unviable, I'm not going to do this. And this is not a sign of an intention, or any lack of commitment to the eurozone. It's a sign of commitment to the eurozone," he said.

Separately, a banking official said the European Central Bank had agreed Friday to a request for support to Greek banks. The official declined to specify whether the request was for an increase in the emergency credit Greek banks have been receiving.

Worried depositors have been pulling their money out of Greek banks, fearing a failure in the negotiations could lead to financial turmoil and a restriction on banking transactions. An estimated 4 billion left Greek banks last week.

(KA)