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Greece says bailout hard line could be 'social disaster'

Associated Press Associated Press 22/11/2016

ATHENS, Greece — A new round of talks between Greece's government and international creditors paused Tuesday, with Athens accusing bailout hardliners of proposing tough new cuts that would be a "social disaster."

Greece wants to overcome differences with eurozone lenders and the International Monetary Fund by early next month. That would unlock more bailout funds and trigger talks toward modest measures to relieve the country's crushing debt.

The finance ministry said the week-long negotiations in Athens had made "significant progress." It hopes to strike an agreement by Dec. 5, when finance ministers from countries that use the euro will discuss the Greek program and the course of its third successive international bailout.

But the two sides remain apart, mainly on thorny labor reforms and public spending.

"If the counter proposals mean cuts to the health service, education, across-the-boards cuts to pensions, and mass firings in the already understaffed civil service, that would be a social disaster and would not be accepted by the government or by the Greek people," government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said at an evening briefing.

An official from the government confirmed a report by Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the finance ministers of Germany, France, Italy and Spain are planning to meet in Berlin Friday with officials from the IMF and European Central Bank for discussions that would include Greece's debt and bailout measures.

The official asked not to be named, describing the planned meeting as "not extraordinary."

Greece's left-led government wants to strengthen unions' wage bargaining powers, and is resisting pressure from creditors — European Union institutions and the IMF — to facilitate private-sector layoffs.

The country's largest civil servants union called a 24-hour strike for Thursday, arguing that mass staff cuts could not continue. The union said the number of people employed by the government and publicly owned companies had been slashed from 936,000 in 2011 to 567,000.

"The third bailout is another step toward taking labor regulations back to the dark ages," a union statement said.

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