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VOL. 41 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 31, 2017

Greece says a deal on unfreezing the bailout is close

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Top Greek and European officials indicated Wednesday that it's possible to reach a breakthrough in the country's difficult bailout talks over the next two days. Greece's prime minister said that if a deal on paying Athens the next bailout installment fails to materialize, the eurozone should hold a special summit.

Alexis Tsipras said negotiators are "just a breath away" from an agreement at Friday's scheduled meeting in Malta of the so-called eurogroup, the gather of finance ministers from countries that use the euro.

But Tsipras blamed unnamed negotiators among Greece's European creditors and the International Monetary Fund for "moving the goalposts" each time Greece was getting close to meeting approval conditions for the bailout.

"We are not playing games here ... that must stop," he said, after talks in Athens with EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Greece has to agree on budget measures to get access to its loans. But the talks have dragged on for months, freezing the latest loan payout and hurting chances of a Greek economic recovery after years of recession and turmoil.

Without the bailout payment, Greece would struggle to make a debt payment in July, raising anew the prospect of default.

Tsipras' left-led government is pushing for a comprehensive deal that would cover more than just spending cuts and harsh reforms by Greece, but also alleviate the country's debt burden and ease its access later this year to international bond markets.

"If the eurogroup is not in a position to (reach an agreement) on Friday, I have asked President Tusk to convene a eurozone summit to achieve an immediate agreement," Tsipras said.

"I don't think that will be needed, because there will be a result on Friday, but these delays cannot continue."

Tusk voiced hope that a breakthrough is close, pointing to "significant progress" in talks in Brussels this week between Greek ministers and lenders.

"The responsibility for reaching an agreement is shared by all the participants of this process," he said.

Greece has depended on international bailouts since 2010. To receive the funds, successive governments slashed incomes, hiked taxes and implemented market reforms, boosting state revenues but also deepening a recession that wiped a quarter off the economy and left nearly one in four workers jobless.

Currently demanded cutbacks include new pension cuts, a broadening of the tax base, labor reforms and privatizations. These will require approval by Greece's parliament, where Tsipras holds a three-seat majority.

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