Tsipras: Greek debt deal would ‘end six years of darkness’

Tsipras: Greek debt deal would ‘end six years of darkness’

Progress towards continued bailout financing means Greece is about to put "six years of darkness" behind it, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Tuesday.

A day after eurozone finance ministers gave themselves until May 24 to reach a deal on debt relief and unlocking bailout cash for Greece as they lauded Athens for passing tough reforms, Tsipras told a cabinet meeting that this would allow Greece "to turn the page."

The 19 ministers meeting in Brussels Monday failed to sign off on the long-delayed first review of last July’s 86-billion-euro ($95 billion) EU-IMF bailout – but said this could be done in the "coming days."

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said that the Greek parliament’s approval of fresh reforms in a tense vote late Sunday "paves the way for successful completion of the first review" of the bailout.

"For the first time we have had good news," Tsipras said.

Progress in Brussels "opens the door to the payment of a large tranche" of the bailout package which, he put at, at least 5.4 billion euros.

Athens will use the funds to acquit itself of arrears on operational government spending, he said.

Tsipras also welcomed signs that the EU and the International Monetary Fund appear to have made progress on the thorny question of debt relief.

"This will create the financial room not just to relaunch the economy but also widen social protection," he said.

"With the decision on May 24, Greece will turn a page and leave behind it six years of darkness," he said.

EU ministers are likely to expect further commitments by Greece on faster privatisation and a hike in indirect taxes before they approve a deal.

Athens will also need to find agreement with its creditors on what measures to implement if it fails to bring its primary budget surplus, which excludes debt payments, to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2018.

Tsipras said there would be "contingency measures" to correct any imbalance, but added that "no correction will be necessary" as Greece had already exceeded its surplus target in 2015.

The finance ministers’ meeting followed days of protests in Greece, where tens of thousands took to the streets again to slam the unpopular reforms adopted late Sunday which reduce the country’s highest pensions and raise taxes.

The measures were passed thanks to the government’s slim majority in the 300-seat parliament, with the coalition’s far-left SYRIZA party voting in favour of the measures despite fears of dissensions. [AFP]

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