Greece signals concessions in talks

The Greek government signalled the biggest concessions so far as crunch talks with lenders on a cash-for-reforms package started in earnest yesterday, but tried to assure leftist supporters it had not abandoned its anti-austerity principles.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s three-month-old government is under growing pressure to reach an agreement with European and IMF lenders to avert a national bankruptcy.

A new poll showed over three quarters of Greeks feel Athens must strike a deal at any cost to stay in the euro. An enlarged team of Greek negotiators began talks with representatives of the troika to discuss which reforms Greece will turn into legislation rapidly in exchange for aid.

The talks are expected to continue through the May Day holiday weekend until Sunday, with Tsipras willing to step in to speed things up if necessary, a Greek official said. In a sign of seriousness, both sides agreed on a news blackout, a eurozone official said.

Greece wants an interim deal by next week, hoping that will allow the ECB to ease liquidity restrictions before a €750m payment to the IMF falls due on May 12. Athens has suggested it will struggle to pay the instalment.

Elected on vows to end austerity and scrap an unpopular EU/IMF bailout scheme, Tsipras had refused to give ground on so-called “red lines” — pensions, labour reform, and state asset sales — that are core to his leftist party’s agenda.

After a preparatory meeting of senior Greek officials on Wednesday, a top government official said Athens was willing to sell a majority stake in its two biggest ports and compromise on value-added tax rates and some pension reforms, in the clearest signal yet that it is ready to back down for a deal.

“The Greek government is ready for an honest solution which will unlock financial aid from partners and put an end to the economic asphyxiation the bailouts have caused,” Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was sidelined from the bailout talks this week to appease lenders, told Sto Kokkino radio.

However, Tsipras’ office yesterday denied any climbdown, seeking to assuage hardliners in his Syriza party as he tries to satisfy Greece’s creditors before its coffers are empty.

“The government is sticking to its red lines,” an aide to Tsipras said on condition of anonymity. “The government does not have the popular mandate to reach a deal that crosses red lines and it won’t do that.”

Initial reaction from lenders, after a dinner of senior eurozone finance ministry officials on Wednesday, was non-committal. Officials said they had discussed “process and expectations” rather than substance.

“Time is going to get tight before the 11th,” one official said, referring to a crucial May 11 meeting of eurozone finance ministers.

Tsipras was expected to brief ministers on the talks at a cabinet meeting later on Thursday. An omnibus bill with reforms promised to lenders is likely to be put to parliament only after cabinet approval and the conclusion of the Brussels talks.



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