NEWS

PM tries to stay positive as pressure mounts

Prime Minister George Papandreou attempted to lift the gloom over Greece by insisting on Friday that the country will repay all its debt and will return to growth by next year but disputes within his PASOK party about the potential sacking of civil servants continued.

Speaking at a function in Argolida in the Peloponnese, Papandreou appeared to reject speculation this week that Athens would soon restructure or reprofile its debt despite already receiving the first four installments of a 110-billion-euro loan package. ?I want to say here that we will pay back these loans,? he said.

Interest on Greece?s 10-year bonds rose to almost 17 percent yesterday on the back of the uncertainty surrounding the country. Papandreou insisted that his government would lead Greece through its difficulties. ?We will do whatever we have to do for Greece to stand on its own two feet,? he said. ?We will have growth in 2012.?

The PASOK government came under heavy pressure this week both from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to speed up its reforms and to take more measures aimed at improving its public finances. Visiting EU and IMF officials cut short their regular progress inspection on Thursday, saying that they will only return when the government has taken some of the measures it has promised.

Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou reflected this added urgency in Parliament on Friday when he warned MPs that Greece would have to move forward with selling off state assets. ?There is no time left,? he said. ?It all has to happen and it has to happen now.?

Athens aims to raise an ambitious 50 billion euros by 2015 and is under pressure to begin privatizations now. The EU and IMF have suggested setting up an independent body, possibly under their oversight, to manage the sell-offs.

There are holdups on other fronts as well. The government had said on Thursday that it would sack some civil servants that fail to pass evaluation tests during departmental transfers but Infrastructure and Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas questioned whether there would be any savings from such a move. He suggested it was a token gesture to please the EU and the IMF.

Most of the departmental transfers will occur in public enterprises and public transport companies, which are under Reppas?s jurisdiction.