NEWS

Final stretch for talks on cuts

PM hopes to reach coalition deal before Friday, as new poll shows strong opposition to measures

Plans to wrap up by the end of the week negotiations with the troika on some 11.5 billion euros of cuts are still on course, government sources suggested Monday, following a meeting between Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and representatives of Greece?s lenders.

Greece?s coalition leaders are due to meet Wednesday or on Thursday to finalize the cuts before Prime Minister Antonis Samaras flies to Rome on Friday to meet Italian Premier Mario Monti. Samaras is aiming to secure an agreement with PASOK?s Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left?s Fotis Kouvelis before leaving.

The government is hoping that after that, Stournaras will conclude talks with the troika and the coalition can draw the relevant bills to be submitted to Parliament. It is possible the draft laws will be appended to the 2013 national budget and submitted to Parliament before the meeting of eurozone finance minister on October 8 and the European Union leaders? summit on October 18 and 19.

Following Stournaras?s meeting with troika officials, Finance Ministry sources said there had been ?more progress? between the two sides but that the talks would continues. The finance minister remained evasive on the issue of whether a rise in the retirement age from 65 to 67 would be one of the measures adopted by the coalition in order to clinch the deal with its lenders. ?We?ll see,? Stournaras told reporters.

While the coalition has a comfortable majority in Parliament to rely on to pass the measures, it faces a sizable task in convincing the public that the country is on the right track. A new Public Issue poll for Skai and Kathimerini suggested that only 20 percent of Greeks are satisfied with the government and 68 percent are against the terms of the loan deal. Of those questioned, 85 percent say they will probably be affected by the latest cuts. Nevertheless, 67 percent of Greeks still view the euro positively.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a news conference that her ?heart bleeds? at the hardships faced by many Greeks due to the austerity measures but stressed the need for Greece to continue reforms in order to remain in the eurozone.

?I think that everyone who is politically sensible will want that, too,? she said of Greece?s membership of the single currency, while calling on Greeks to back reforms. ?In some cases, this is about reforms that, I think, wouldn?t bring any extra burden for the population.

?I don?t think it helps to revolt against measures that have to be taken anyway.?

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