Greek opposition leader says he would swiftly axe bailout

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2014 6:32 AM

By Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras promised on Tuesday that if elected, he would swiftly scrap the country's EU/IMF bailout without waiting for the outcome of talks with lenders.

Tsipras' pledge contrasted with the conservative government's plan to seek a negotiated exit from the unpopular 240 billion euro ($298 billion) bailout program, which has required years of austerity including deep wage cuts.

Greece could face early elections next year, depending on the outcome of a separate vote to elect a president. The latest opinion poll by the Pulse agency showed Syriza, the radical leftist party that Tsipras heads, would win with 29.5 percent of the vote if national elections were held now.

"We will replace the bailout with (Syriza's) program from the initial days of our government, before and regardless of the outcome of the negotiation," Tsipras told a conference.

"This program aimed at healing our wounds and restarting the economy will be implemented irrespective of, and beyond, the process of tough negotiations, which we know won't be easy."

Syriza's plan to reverse austerity cuts includes hiking the minimum wage and reinstating Christmas pension bonuses.

Tsipras reiterated his call for the European Union to forgive part of Greek debt. In a television interview aired late on Monday, he said bond markets would remain "aggressive" towards Greece unless its debt was made sustainable.

Tsipras has long railed against the bailout but in recent months had adopted a more conciliatory tone, stressing the need for negotiation rather than unilateral decisions.

He accused Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of kowtowing to the demands of the EU and International Monetary Fund in the country's latest bailout review.

Talks have dragged on for weeks without agreement on next year's budget, leaving Athens short of time to wrap up the review by a Dec. 8 deadline and pave the way for an early exit from the bailout by the end of the year.

The finance ministry on Tuesday acknowledged that lenders had been demanding additional measures in the belief that Greece would fall short of its budget target next year. It said Athens disagreed with the assumption of a shortfall.

"This is the most significant disagreement in this negotiation," the ministry said. "In the hypothetical case that the (EU/IMF) troika's most pessimistic estimates are confirmed, we have identified areas to bridge the gap. But this hypothetical case won't happen."

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)