Battle for survival continues

Agreement between Greek officials and representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission could be concluded this weekend as the government continues what Prime Minister George Papandreou termed the country’s «battle for survival.» The government appears to have agreed to a set of reforms that would see public sector wages slashed drastically and indirect taxes and value-added tax hiked over the next few days. The package is also thought to include changes to labor laws, making it easier for private sector employers to dismiss workers. Should the agreement be finalized, the new measures could be announced to the Greek populace as early as Sunday or Monday. «Discussion with our [European] partners and the IMF on the activation of the mechanism will be completed in the coming days,» Papandreou told PASOK’s political council after holding talks with senior labor union officials to brief them on the course of the government’s discussions with the IMF and European Union officials. «We are forced to fight a battle for survival… We will do whatever it takes to save the country,» he told PASOK members. Once the measures are announced, Papandreou will present them to Parliament, where MPs will vote on them. Sources close to the premier said that a simple majority in the 300-seat House would be needed for the new steps to pass into law. They denied that the European Commission had been pressing for the package to be approved by 60 percent of the deputies. At his meeting with union officials yesterday, Papandreou made it clear that the IMF and EU have allowed Greece very little room to maneuver and are attaching tough measures to the 45 billion euros in emergency loans that Greece wants this year. Sources said he asked the unionists to appreciate this point and not to try to make political capital from the situation. He is likely to tell the opposition parties the same message when the measures are submitted to Parliament.

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