Greek leader Tsipras confident he can resolve debt tiff

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2016 8:29 PM
Greek leader Tsipras confident he can resolve debt tiff

BRUSSELS (AP) — Boosted by French President Francois Hollande and other left-leaning European Union leaders, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Thursday he could win a dispute with European creditors who pulled a recently announced debt relief package for his country.

Hollande said at the EU summit that "it is out of the question to ask for further additional efforts from Greece or prevent them from taking a number of sovereign measures that respect the commitments" previously undertaken by his country.

Days after a Dec. 5 eurozone agreement to approve some debt relief, Tsipras announced a Christmas bonus for some 1.6 million low-income pensioners and committed to restore a lower sales tax rate for Aegean Sea islanders. The move surprised the eurozone creditors, who suspended the debt relief.

Tsipras said at the summit that there is room for "a breakthrough, without blackmail." He will be making his case on his country's debt problems during a visit Friday to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

He expressed confidence the dispute with European bailout lenders will be resolved soon.

"I, as you can see, am extremely calm, and think it is something that will be overcome very soon. The (Christmas bonus) does not in any way threaten the bailout program and the targets for the 2016 budget surplus," Tsipras said, adding that bailout creditors are preparing a report on the issue.

Tsipras said other more crucial issues will determine the successful conclusion of Greece's bailout talks with its European creditors and the International Monetary Fund.

"I believe that in the near future all parties will take the necessary initiatives to bridge our differences," he told reporters.

He said Germany was the only European country to question the bonus.

"It is unacceptable for some to try to revive a negotiating game to the detriment of Greece and its people, which has made huge sacrifices in the name of Europe," Tsipras said. "This is not reasonable."

Tsipras also accused the IMF of pressing Greece to adopt new austerity measures for after the end of the program.

"No democratic parliament ... could accept such a demand and decide on measures to be implemented, if needed, after three years," he said.

EU Parliament President Martin Schulz, another socialist, came to Tsipras' defense, although he acknowledged that strictly speaking, the Greek government's decisions have not complied with what was agreed to.

"I can understand very well what the Greek government has done, because it is trying to protect the most vulnerable a little bit in the time before Christmas," Schulz said. "So I think that the eurogroup, when it meets again in January, will perhaps find a way to reconcile the two things — compliance with the agreements with the necessary flexibility that a government needs to preserve social stability in the country."

In Greece, lawmakers approved the controversial Christmas bonus payment. The article on the bonus, which Athens wants to distribute next week, was approved by 196 votes, while 61 lawmakers from the main opposition conservative party abstained.

Later this month, Greece's parliament is to vote on Tsipras' pledge to restore a lower sales tax rate for Aegean Sea islanders who are struggling to cope with mass arrivals of migrants from Turkey.

As lawmakers prepared to vote Thursday, some 5,000 pensioners marched peacefully to Tsipras' office to protest years of cuts to their pensions under the country's bailout commitments.

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Associated Press writer Nicholas Paphitis reported this story from Athens, Greece, and AP writer Raf Casert reported in Brussels.