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Syriza leader confident ahead of eurozone crunch talks in Brussels
Greece's new prime minister Alexis Tsipras is "full of confidence" his country can secure a deal to ditch strict austerity measures while still satisfying Athens' international creditors, despite warning that crunch talks in Brussels today would be "difficult".
As a key deadline approaches for Greece to either agree to stick to its existing bailout programme or reach a compromise with its lenders, eurozone finance ministers meet again on Monday in an attempt to hammer out an agreement.
The new leftist Greek government is arguing for an end to relentless cuts imposed as a condition of the country's rescue funding and wants more time to prove that a more pro-growth approach will work better. But it faces opposition from other eurozone countries, most notably Germany, which have pushed for the strict terms of Greece's €240bn (£180bn) bailout programme to stay in place. Talks in Brussels last week made no headway in resolving the standoff.
But Tsipras also faces growing criticism from hard-left militants in his own party for appearing to row back on some pre-election pledges to ditch austerity measures.
Asked about the Brussels talks, the 40-year-old prime minister told German news magazine Stern: "I expect difficult negotiations on Monday. But I am full of confidence.
"I am in favour of a solution where everyone wins. I want a win-win solution. I want to save Greece from tragedy and Europe from a split."
"I promise you: Greece will, in six months' time, be a completely different country," he said.
His finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told Greek newspaper Kathimerini at the weekend that a deal between Athens and the eurozone will be found, even if that may well be at the last minute.
But Tsipras not only has to persuade Berlin that debt-stricken Athens will keep along the path of reform, but assure his own hard-left militants that red lines will not be crossed in any compromise.
There was mounting disquiet at the weekend that Varoufakis had gone too far by saying the new government was willing to implement 70% of the hated memorandum outlining Greece's bailout accords. Firing a warning shot over the government's bows, the energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who represents Syriza's radical wing, said there could be no solution if foreign lenders insisted on Athens adopting the "sinful memorandum".
"If our so-called partners insist, in any way, on extending the existing programme, that is to say the sinful memorandum because that is what they mean by the programme, there can be no agreement," he told the state news agency ANA-MPA on Sunday.
"Then the so-called partners - and let's say it as it is, Germany - will have made a conscious choice of [going for] a rift," added the former communist who heads Syriza's left platform.
It was imperative, Lafazanis warned, that the "radical orientation of the government programme", backed by voters when the anti-austerity Syriza was catapulted into office, was upheld.
In Berlin, London, Dublin, Nicosia, Brussels, Paris and Rome, demonstrators held solidarity protests in one of the biggest outpourings of support for Greece.
Athens welcomed the show of support: "The popular demonstrations in tens of towns all over Europe reinforce the negotiating position of the new Greek government and give it strength," said a government spokesperson.
In London's Trafalgar Square, British leftists voiced concerns that Tsipras and his inner circle were riding roughshod over those on the far-left of the party in their attempt to seal a deal that could keep bankrupt Greece afloat.
"It is absurd that Tsipras and Varoufakis think 70% of the memorandum is acceptable," said Liam McNulty, from Workers' Liberty, a group of anti-Stalinist Marxists who are in regular contact with MPs representing Syriza's Left Platform.
"We are hearing of undemocratic processes, that the central committee on which the hard-left sits is being bypassed so that Tsipras and his kitchen cabinet can take decisions," McNulty told the Guardian as he handed out leaflets in the square.
The current bailout programme expires on 28 February, but Monday is the last date Greece can apply for an extension, according to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chair of the group of eurozone finance ministers.
Analysts underline the failure so far to come anywhere close to a deal that will allow Athens to at least to cover its near-term financial obligations.
Jennifer McKeown, at thintank Capital Economics, said a concrete plan seemed unlikely on Monday and the lack of political progress could prompt tough action from the European Central Bank on Wednesday when it meets to reassess the amount of emergency liquidity it has provided for Greek banks.
"There may be nervousness that the ECB will outlaw or limit the Greek central bank's emergency liquidity assistance to the banking sector when it discusses the policy on Wednesday," she said. "Such a decision could mark the beginning of the end of Greece's euro membership."
[Source: By Helena Smith and Katie Allen, The Guardian, London, 15Feb15]
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