Debt inspectors return to Athens

By Elena Becatoros

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29 2011 9:45 a.m. MDT

European Commission official Matthias Mors waits in an elevator with an unidentified member of a debt inspection team, ahead of a meeting with Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos in Athens on Thursday, Sept 29 2011. The inspectors arrived Thursday for a critical review of the debt-strapped country's cost-cutting program. Greece's troubled Socialist government is facing a growing number of protests against austerity measures, aimed at securing continued bailout loan payment from eurozone countries and the IMF.

Kostas Tsironis, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Greece's international debt inspectors returned to Athens Thursday to resume their suspended review of the country's reforms and determine whether to recommend the debt-struck nation receives the vital next installment of bailout loans.

Officials from the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission, known as the troika, halted their review earlier this month amid dissatisfaction over missed fiscal targets and delays in implementation of reforms the country must make to qualify for its bailout loans.

An initial meeting with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was "positive and constructive," a ministry official said. The talks consisted of an overview of issues to be examined until the review is completed, said the official, who asked not to be named in line with ministry rules.

The heads of the troika were to meet again with Venizelos and other ministers in the coming days.

Greece has been reliant since May last year on regular payouts of loans from a €110 billion ($150 billion) bailout from other eurozone countries and the IMF. It was granted a second, €109 billion package in July, though the details of that deal remain to be worked out.

The troika had originally been expected to approve Greece's next batch of loans, worth €8 billion, in early September. Greece has said that without the loans, it has enough funds to see it through mid-October, after which it runs out of cash and will be unable to pay salaries and pensions.

The government announced a series of extra austerity measures after the troika left, including pension cuts, extra taxes and the suspension of 30,000 civil servants on partial pay by the end of the year.

Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed during a Cabinet meeting to discuss the situation that the new measures were essential, and that Greece would honor the commitments it had made.

"The reform of Greece will not come from abroad, it will come from us ourselves," Papandreou told his ministers, according to statements released by his office. "From all of us, from the government and the people, from a broad — if silent — majority, from an alliance that these great changes require."

Papandreou said that during his recent visit to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he discussed the possibility of cooperating with Germany on issues such as administration and tax systems.

The prime minister also stressed the importance of the July 21 agreement under which Greece was granted its second bailout, and insisted Greece would meet its targets.

"The road for the completion of the agreement's implementation is of course long and has many external factors" such as being ratified by the parliaments of other eurozone countries, he said. German lawmakers were the latest to approve expanding the size and powers of the European Financial Stability Facility, or EFSF, bailout fund, on Thursday.

Venizelos welcomed the vote, expressing "his satisfaction and his optimism" that all eurozone countries will ratify the agreement, a statement released from his office said.

Venizelos connected the vote in Berlin "with the fact that Greece has sent a very clear and decisive message at an international level that it meets its obligations," the statement said.

The latest measures announced this month have sparked outrage among Greeks who have already been through more than a year of austerity in which salaries have been trimmed and taxes increased. Unions have responded with repeated strikes and daily protests.

Hundreds of civil servants took over several ministries on Thursday morning, including the Finance Ministry. Workers who took over the Interior Ministry building hung a giant black banner from the balconies and draped the ministry's gate with a Greek flag emblazoned with a "for sale" sign.

"The occupations are being carried out today when the troika returns to our country and in the face of the barbaric new measures which have been decided and are being decided," the civil servants' union ADEDY said in a statement.

The union said about seven ministries, including those of justice, health, environment and regional development, were under occupation.

Striking taxi drivers were demonstrating in central Athens, while scuffles broke out in the northern city of Thessaloniki between riot police and students protesting education reform.

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Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed.

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