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Int'l lenders pressure Greece on slow reforms

By John Keating

PARIS, Sept 3 (KUNA) -- International lenders from the European Union, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been pressuring Greece in talks here over the country's slow reform process, while holding back on discussions on a refinancing package for the troubled Greek economy, A French Finance Official, who requested anonymity, told KUNA on Wednesday that the talks, which run until Thursday, had so far been "focusing more on what Greece needed to do" than on debt relief or other measures to give "an oxygen boost" to the Greek economy.
Greece is hoping that the international lenders will ease up on interest rates and repayment schedules for its Euros 344 billion (USD 464 billion) in debt to allow for economic growth to take hold after five years of austerity and social tensions.
Greek debt represents about 175 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and it will be paying back its financial bailout until 2042.
But criticism was again raised in the meetings at the outset on Tuesday concerning the slow pace of privatization in Greece, whereby the government had committed to sell off uneconomical assets to bring in revenues, the official said.
He added that Greece was also "taken to task" for not having streamlined the public sector quickly enough, a move that already caused severe social upheaval with job losses that led to riots and major clashes and a swing to the left in Greek elections.
Already, the official said, the Greek delegation led by its Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis, had changed the venue of the talks to Paris from Athens to avoid demonstrations or potential trouble with aggravated citizens who have suffered under austerity.
Greece also argues that its economic fundamentals have improved significantly and there are signs of renewed growth, but this is apparently not enough to satisfy the reform-minded group in Paris.
Any talk of debt relief, new funds, interest rate adjustments or debt rescheduling will only take place after the review of the ongoing Greek reform process is completed, probably some time next month, the official said. (end) jk.ibi