NEWS

Flurry of talks ahead of troika visit

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was on Monday to launch of a cycle of critical meetings with the leaders of the three parties in his shaky coalition government in a last-ditch attempt to forge a consensus on tough reforms ahead of the scheduled return to Athens of foreign auditors.

The first meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday is with Antonis Samaras, the leader of conservative New Democracy. It is expected to be the most crucial as Papademos must win the party?s support for crucial reforms. ND, which is leading in opinion polls, has expressed vehement opposition to plans to merge auxiliary pension funds.

The premier is then scheduled to meet with the head of the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Giorgos Karatzaferis, at at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The rightwing leader, who has accused the two larger parties of failing to make serious efforts at consensus on austerity, has reportedly asked for session of party leaders to be convened by President Karolos Papoulias with the participation of Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos. Karatzaferis was reportedly due to meet with Papoulias at 2 p.m. on Monday.

It remained unclear exactly when the premier would meet with George Papandreou, his predecessor and the leader of Socialist PASOK, but the latter is not expected to offer any resistance to an austerity drive launched by his former administration.

Papademos was due to meet Venizelos at 2 p.m. on Monday for a briefing on the progress of drafting and implementation of reforms which Greece must achieve to secure a mammoth slice of rescue aid ?- at 89 billion euros, the biggest sum yet.

A bill opening up closed professions ranging from lawyers to truck drivers along with other measures is to be submitted in Parliament Tuesday and is expected to be voted on by the end of the week.

Greece’s foreign creditors recently intensifief their demands for the opening of closed professions as well as the lowering of the minimum wage — now 751 euros.

Commenting on the minimum wage issue in comments to Mega television channel on Monday, government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis appealed to foreign auditors to try to find other ways of boosting competitiveness in the labor market.