New Greek government faces confidence vote

The debate on the coalition government's policy program continues for a second day, with a view to the vote of confidence to the government, scheduled for midnight on Sunday. AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI

ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government faced a confidence vote on Sunday capping three days of often heated debate over how the recession-wracked country can emerge from crisis.

"The goal of the government is to guarantee the place of Greece in the eurozone against those who want to undermine it," Samaras told lawmakers in his first major address as Greece's new leader after winning an election in June.

The outcome of the vote in parliament held little mystery with Samaras's conservative New Democracy party leading a coalition of 179-seats in the 300-seat chamber with the socialist PASOK party and the much smaller Democratic Left.

In his Friday speech outlining the government's programme, Samaras insisted that Greece would push through delayed reforms and privatisations, but would also request a break from its EU-IMF bailout programme to fight a recession now in its fifth year.

"Our problem is not adopting reforms, which we will do without question. It is not reaching an objective, which we will meet. But it is finding an end to the recession," the 61-year-old prime minister said.

Since the election, coalition members have made plain their desire to revisit terms of the second 130-billion-euro ($160-billion) bailout agreed with creditors from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who helped negotiate the bailout deal last winter, said Greece must seek new terms and extend a deadline to balance its budget by three years.

And new Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras reiterated in parliament Saturday that "an extension" was necessary.

However, he cautioned that Greece could not launch a renegotiation without first "taking the measures delineated in the adjustment plan."

"We must adopt the measures included in the second loan in February so that we do not threaten the release of this loan," Stournaras said drawing outbursts from leftist opposition lawmakers.

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftist Syriza party that came in a close second in the June election, accused the government of selling off state assets "like a real estate agent."

"The government will have to account for its actions, the looting of public goods," Tsipras said, accusing Samaras and his ministers of reneging on an electoral promise to revisit the bailout agreement.

But winning the reprieve will not be easy as officials from Greece's creditors have shown stiff resistance to renegotiation talk and refuse to give up more money until progress is seen.

"I'm not in a negotiations or renegotiations mood at all," said IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Tuesday.

And an EU official said Friday that Greece will not receive its next tranche of bailout of aid, reported to be 31.5 billion euros on August 20, unless it continues the implementation of demanded economic reforms.

The parliament session comes as auditors from the EU and IMF continue to probe Greece's finances. Their conclusions, expected later this month, will help lenders decide whether to proceed with Greece's current loan programme.

In his speech, Samaras admitted that Greece had fallen behind in its programme, led off course by an extended election season after a first vote in May failed to produce a workable majority.





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