Greece 'on verge of' coalition deal

Socialist leader promises "wholehearted support" as he says parties in talks aim to form a coalition by Wednesday.

    Greece's three main pro-euro parties have moved closer to an agreement to form a coalition that will have to deal with the debt crisis and try to renegotiate an unpopular EU-IMF bailout deal.

    Antonis Samaras, leader of the New Democracy party, who won Sunday's elections has been holding talks with the socialist PASOK party and the small Democratic Left party under intense pressure from financial markets and world powers meeting on Tuesday to move quickly and get Greek reforms back on track.

    Evangelos Venizelos, PASOK leader, said following talks on Tuesday that a coalition agreement was possible "by midday tomorrow" - just hours before a deadline for conservatives New Democracy to form a coalition runs out.

    Venizelos, a former finance minister, said the "only practical solution" was for a coalition with New Democracy, PASOK and the Democratic Left.

    Negotiatiors will resume coalition talks on Wednesday at 10:00 GMT, a spokesperson for the PASOK said.

    Samaras, 61, a US-educated former foreign minister, is to be prime minister, Greek media reported, saying there had been a deal between the parties.

    Samaras will have to contend with a surge of public anger over the austerity imposed by the bailout.

    After all, New Democracy only narrowly won the historic elections against the radical leftist Syriza which wants the bailout deal torn up.

    New Democracy took 129 of the 300 parliamentary seats including an extra 50 seats for the winner and Syriza took 71 seats after garnering more than a quarter of the vote in a country struggling with its fifth year of recession.

    Pasok took 33 seats and Democratic Left won 17 seats, although local reports said their lawmakers may not actually be included the new government and the parties would support experienced technocrats in their place.

    The talks on Tuesday did not address who would be in the cabinet of the new government, another party official said.

    Bailout terms

    The results of Greece's most critical elections since the end of military rule in 1974 have eased fears of an immediate euro exit that would have shocked the global economy but left a stand-off with foreign creditors on the card.

    While promising to respect Greece's commitments, Samaras also wants an easing of the bailout "so the Greek people can escape from today's torturous reality".

    Venizelos, who led some of the bailout negotiations in February as finance minister, said the terms of the loans were "unfavourable," adding: "Many of the terms were imposed on us."

    He noted that a 'national negotiation team' would seek to revise the agreement with Greece's international creditors.

    The key issue was "not the composition of the government but the national negotiation team that will aim for the best possible renegotiation of the loan agreement" to fight recession and unemployment, Venizelos said.

    European Union leaders and the International Monetary Fund say an extension of a key deficit deadline is possible but the content cannot be changed and have suspended the multi-billion euro loans until the political situation is clear.

    "There can be no discussions about changing the substance of the agreements but as I indicated three or four weeks ago we can by all means talk about extensions," Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker told Austrian radio.

    Giannis Meimaroglou, European policy adviser to the Democratic Left party, told Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons that his party "is committed even before the elections that we will do our best to participate in a coalition government [to get] Greece out of this impasse".

    His party wants Greece to stay in the eurozone, and for the conditions of the bailout deal to be softened.

    "We think, and we hope, that we will convince our European partners to give us these possibilities," he said.

    Before the talks among euro finance ministers on Thursday, a senior European Union official said it would be "delusional" and "stupid" to keep the February loan agreement intact as the economic environment has changed.

    Under the current conditions, Greece has to cut 11.5bn euros - the equivalent of five per cent of its gross domestic product - by 2014, although Greek parties have called for this deadline to be put off to 2016.

    Short on cash

    Greece has been forced to seek bailouts twice, first for 110bn euros in 2010 and then for 130bn euros earlier this year. It has also had a 107bn-euro private debt write-off.

    In the meantime it is running out of money. Before the election, finance ministry officials cited in the Greek press warned there were only enough cash reserves to pay public sector salaries and pensions until July 20.

    Click here to follow our Greece elections live blog

    Greece has, however, stepped up short-term debt auctions to restock its depleted treasury and held a three-month treasury bill sale on Tuesday - its first since the election - in which it raised $1.6bn.

    The interest rate for the auction was 4.31 per cent, slightly lower than the 4.34 per cent at a previous equivalent sale on May 15.

    The Athens Stock market closed 3.34 per cent higher - in line with rises seen on other European stock markets on eurozone hopes.

    The eurozone is hoping the result can draw a line under a lengthy period of uncertainty that has unsettled markets in a country where the sovereign debt crisis kicked off in 2009 before spreading across the continent.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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