EU/IMF officials in Athens to examine more cuts

Representatives of Greece's international creditors were expected in Athens on Monday to examine ways of saving an additional 11 billion euros in a bid to keep the debt-wracked nation in line with the requested fiscal targets.

The measures, designed to take effect in the next couple of years, are expected to focus on spending cuts rather than revenue raising. Reports on Monday said they will most likely affect Greece's welfare programs and public administration.

Officials from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have said they expect the government to do more to fight tax evasion, which is notoriously rampant in the country. The campaign must generate an additional 3.5 billion euros or more cash-raising measures will have to be introduced.

Representatives of the so-called troika were also on Monday expected to examine a bill for the liberalization of the taxi sector -- which has been the source of rift inside the interim administration -- as well as other reforms that the government has promised to implement before calling elections.

In an interview with Antenna TV on Monday, government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis repeated that parliamentary elections will be held on April 29 or May 6.

Three opinion polls published in recent days showed New Democracy conservatives in the lead. Kapa Research?s survey for To Vima newspaper had the conservatives on 18.1 percent, the MRB poll for Real News on 20.3 percent and MARC?s survey for Ethnos on 17.8 percent. PASOK socialists were second in all the polls but the low levels of support for the two mainstream parties suggests prospects of a clear majority in the election are thin.

New PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos is said to be open to the idea of a coalition with the conservatives, but sources say he will insist on a non-partisan figure being appointed prime minister if there is not a considerable difference in the votes cast for the two parties. In such an eventuality, it would be likely that current Prime Minister Lucas Papademos would be asked to remain in place.

In an interview with the BBC to be published on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that allowing Greece to exit the eurozone because of its debt problems would be ?catastrophic.?

"We have taken the decision to be in a currency union. This is not only a monetary decision it is a political one,? Merkel told BBC's Newsnight program.

"It would be catastrophic if we were to say to one of those who have decided to be with us, 'We no longer want you',? she said, adding that the exit of a member country is not foreseen in the EU rulebooks.