PM hopes for Strauss-Kahn boost

Prime Minister George Papandreou is due to meet International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Athens today, as Greece hopes to get further encouragement about the repayment period for its emergency loan package being extended. Strauss-Kahn arrives in Athens a day after Papandreou held talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels and two days before European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn visits Greece for talks. The EU has indicated it is prepared to consider lengthening the repayment period for Greece’s 110-billion-euro loans from three years to seven-and-a-half. That would bring Greece’s loan package in line with the one recently agreed upon for Ireland and would mean Athens repaying the last of its loan installments in 2024. Strauss-Kahn and Rehn will also meet with New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who has opposed the EU-IMF agreement. The two officials might also be interested observers in a brewing dispute between shop workers and store owners that is symptomatic of the tension being caused by some of the economic reforms the government is undertaking. The union representing shop workers yesterday called a 24-hour strike for Sunday, December 12, the day on which store owners had controversially decided to open for business. The Athens Traders’ Association (ESA) had received permission from local authorities for members to open their stores to boost trade ahead of Christmas, at the end of a poor year for the retail industry. However, the Federation of Private Employees (OIYE) is trying to block this move. It said that shop workers should send a strong message «to all those who are trying to use the economic crisis and the recession a way of abolishing Sunday as a day of rest.» Panagis Karellas, ESA’s president, said his association had asked in previous years for shops to be open on two Sundays in December rather than just one. This year, shops will be open on Sunday, December 19. «I get angry when I see unionists unable to comprehend our vision,» he said. Karellas said that apart from the economic downturn, traders in central Athens had also suffered from the high number of public protests this year, which numbered 771 until yesterday, and which led to shops missing out on an average of about four hours of business each day.

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