Greek premier defiant as bailout talks enter 'homestretch'

German chancellor Angela Merkel (L) talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, on May 22, 2015

Athens (AFP) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Saturday he believes a bailout deal with creditors is nearing, yet remained adamant that there are strict limits to demands Athens will accept.

“We have done what we ought to do, now it’s Europe’s turn to do so,” Tsipras said in a speech to his hard-left Syriza party’s central committee, where he claimed the country is “in the homestretch of a painful and difficult period.”  

The Syriza-led government is locked in talks with the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to release a blocked final 7.2-billion-euro ($7.9 billon) tranche of its 240-billion-euro in bailout.

In exchange for the remaining aid, creditors are demanding Greece accept tough reforms and spending cuts that anti-austerity Syriza pledged to reject when it was elected in January.  

In his speech, Tsipras sought to appease prominent members of his party who are urging the government to stick by its campaign pledges to combat poverty and unemployment, and defy creditors’ demands despite Greece’s increasingly acute liquidity problems.

“The majority of Greek people ask for a viable solution not only an agreement,” Tsipras said, stressing a mutually beneficial deal must focus on low targets for Greece’s primary surplus and restructuring of its debt. 

– Creditors ‘taking advantage’ –

He also accused some creditors of “taking advantage of (Greece’s) cash asphyxiation,” and pledged the government will not “budge to irrational demands” that involve crossing his government’s “red lines”.

“We don’t discuss further deregulation of the labour system. We won’t accept further reduction of pensions. We won’t accept humiliating terms for ourselves, for our party or for the Greek people,” Tsipras stated. 

Greece faces a series of debt repayments beginning next month that are seen as all but impossible to meet without the blocked bailout funds. Failure to honour those payments would result in probable default, raising the spectre of a chaotic Greek exit from the euro.

According to reports, creditors are demanding further budget cuts worth five billion euros. Yet despite the acrimonious atmosphere amid the stalled negotiations, all sides appear convinced there is no alternative to reaching a deal. 

“It would be a catastrophe for Greece to leave the eurozone,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin Saturday during a visit in Lisbon, adding Athens’ exit would also create a “problem for the eurozone”.

But even as he called for a “rapid accord” to be reached, Sapin said any deal must encompass commitments previous Greek governments made in bailout agreements, and also “prepare for what comes next, because Greece will still remain a fragile country.” 

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