Athens: Eurozone members want Greece out

Feb. 16, 2012 at 2:30 AM
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ATHENS, Greece, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- A top Greek official accused the eurozone of repeatedly upping the ante for a $170 billion bailout because key players want Greece out of the single currency.

"There are many in the eurozone who don't want us anymore," Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said at a meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias. "We are constantly being given new terms and conditions."

The charge, which received no eurozone comment, came as Greece's national unity government scrambled to comply with international lenders' escalating demands that must be met within days if Athens is to avoid default in 4 1/2 weeks.

Conservative New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras -- widely thought to be in line to be next prime minister -- sent a letter to EU leaders vowing to implement austerity measures demanded by the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank for the bailout, and stating his party understood the bailout's painful provisions were irreversible, even after planned April elections, when a new government could be in control.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who still heads the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or Pasok party, sent a similar letter.

During a eurozone finance ministers conference call, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands suggested they may want additional letters of commitment from smaller Greek parties. They discussed the possibility of forcing a postponement of Greek elections because they didn't trust Greece would keep its commitment to the overhauls and to paying back its debt.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble warned in a radio interview Greece better not turn into a "bottomless pit" for eurozone bailout funds, and said if it did, Europe was better prepared than when the financial crisis erupted two years ago to cope with Greek default.

Papoulias retorted: "Who is Mr. Schauble to insult Greece? Who are these Dutchmen? Who are these Finns? We have always defended not only the freedom of our own country, but the freedom of Europe.

"I don't accept insults to my country by Mr. Schauble," Papoulias said.

Despite the war of words, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the eurozone finance ministers meetings, said he saw "substantial further progress" toward Greece's meeting the demands by the EU, IMF and ECB, known as the "troika."

He said he was confident "all the necessary decisions" could be taken on the bailout package when the finance ministers meet in Brussels Monday.

Greece needs the package to avoid defaulting on a $19 billion bond repayment it otherwise can't pay March 20.

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