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Greece is voting in a general election which could result in the country trying to renegotiate the terms of its bailout with international lenders.

The left-wing Syriza party, which is tipped to win, wants part of Greece’s huge debt written off and austerity measures revoked.

This has spooked money markets and raised fears of a Greek exit from the euro.


The governing New Democracy party says the economy is recovering.

Greece has endured tough budget cuts in return for the bailout negotiated with the so-called troika of lenders – the European Union, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB).

The economy has shrunk drastically since the 2008 global financial crisis, increasing unemployment and throwing many Greeks into poverty.

Polls across Greece opened at 07:00 local time and will close at 19:00.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

There are nearly 10 million eligible voters, who are electing the country’s 300-member parliament.

First exit polls are expected immediately after the voting ends.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras says his party will restore “dignity” to Greece by rolling back on cuts to jobs, pay and pensions which have hurt millions of people across the country.

The possibility of a Syriza victory has sparked fears that Greece could default on its debt and leave the euro – the single currency of 19 EU members.

This is despite the fact that Syriza has moderated its stance since the peak of the eurozone crisis, and says it wants Greece to stay a member of the currency.

Meanwhile, the leader of centre-right New Democracy and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has promised to work “day and night” to keep the country standing.

Syriza, he argues, could force Greece from the euro by its policies, serving what he called the “drachma lobby”, a reference to the former Greek currency.

Antonis Samaras also warns that Greece could miss out on a massive program of quantitative easing unveiled by the ECB last week to help stimulate the eurozone economy.

The centrist To Potami and the right-wing Golden Dawn party are expected to fight for third place in the elections.

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Greece’s left-wing party Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras says an end to “national humiliation” is near, as opinion polls put the party ahead three days before the general election.

Alexis Tsipras asked supporters for a clear mandate to enable him to end Greece’s austerity policies.

He repeated his promise to have half of Greece’s international debt written off when the current bailout deal ends.

Greece has endured deep budget cuts tied to the massive bailout.

The country’s election on January 25 is being closely watched by financial markets which fear that a Syriza victory could lead Greece to default on its debt and exit from the euro.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

“On Monday, national humiliation will be over. We will finish with orders from abroad,” Alexis Tsipras told thousands of cheering supporters at the party’s final election rally in Athens.

“We are asking for a first chance for Syriza. It might be the last chance for Greece.”

Greece has gone through a deep recession and still has a quarter of its workforce unemployed.

However, there have been warnings that a Syriza victory could lead to a dangerous confrontation with other eurozone countries.

Syriza is tipped to win but without an outright majority, and analysts say the party may struggle to find a coalition partner.

Alexis Tsipras has said he will not govern with those who support what he has called the policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany is seen in Greece as taking the hardest line on its debt.

Earlier this month, a spokesman for Angela Merkel said Germany expected Greece to uphold the terms of its international bailout agreement.

Under those terms, the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – the so-called troika – supported Greece with the promise of €240 billion in return for budget cuts and economic reforms.

Latest polls show Syriza widening its lead over PM Antonis Samaras’s centre-right New Democracy party.

A poll to be published on January 23 by Metron Analysis put Syriza’s lead over New Democracy up to 5.3 percentage points from 4.6 points.

Another poll, by Rass, had Syriza 4.8 points in the lead.

Antonis Samaras will hold his final election rally on January 23 as both sides make a final push to win over undecided voters.

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Greece’s parliament has rejected the presidential candidate nominated by PM Antonis Samaras, triggering a snap general election.

Stavros Dimas failed to reach the necessary 180 votes, which means that parliament will have to be dissolved.

Greece’s economy has begun to recover after six years of recession.

Greeks have endured years of austerity and the left-wing Syriza party leading the polls wants the terms of a huge EU-IMF bailout renegotiated.

Although unemployment in Greece has begun falling from a record 28% early this year, it is still extremely high, at 25.5%.

Responding to the vote, the IMF said talks on completing a review of the bailout, which Greece would need if it were to leave the EU-IMF program, would take place only when a new government was in place.

The Athens stock market fell 7% as news of the vote sank in, with bank shares among the worst affected. Bank of Piraeus shares slumped 9%, after recovering from earlier record lows.Greece parliament presidential vote

Investors sold off Greek government bonds, pushing bond yields above 9%. The government’s borrowing costs on 10-year bonds rose to 9.7%, in a reminder of the 2010 crisis when 10-year bonds soared above 11%.

Bond yields also rose in Spain and Italy, two other countries hit hard by the eurozone debt crisis.

Shortly after the vote, Antonis Samaras announced that elections would take place on January 25.

“The country has no time to waste,” he said in a televised address.

Stavros Dimas, a former European commissioner, secured the votes of only 168 lawmakers, the same number he had won during the second vote last week.

The government failed to attract the support of two smaller parties, Independent Greeks and Democratic Left, which it needed to win the vote.

The defeat is regarded as a major setback for the prime minister, as well as for eurozone countries that worked hard to bring Greece back from the brink in 2010.

Since then €240 billion ($290 billion) has been spent helping Greece pay off its debts. In return for two major bailouts, the EU and IMF demanded stringent austerity measures.

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Amal Clooney has had talks with Greek PM Antonis Samaras as part of a campaign to return the Parthenon sculptures from Britain.

Greece has hired Amal Clooney’s London law firm to ramp up its claim to the sculptures.

The 5th Century BC treasures, known as the Elgin Marbles in the UK, are kept in the British Museum in London.

Fellow lawyer Norman Palmer said he hoped a “conciliatory and amicable resolution” could be found.

“If it cannot, then other considerations will have to be examined,” he added.

The marbles – depicting gods, men and monsters – were removed from the Parthenon in Athens in 1811 by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Greece at the time.

Amal Clooney has had talks with Greek PM Antonis Samaras as part of a campaign to return the Parthenon sculptures from Britain

Amal Clooney has had talks with Greek PM Antonis Samaras as part of a campaign to return the Parthenon sculptures from Britain (photo AFP)

George Clooney’s new wife and her colleagues from Doughty Street Chambers in London were visiting the Parthenon on October 15 after taking part in a news conference with Culture Minister Costas Tassoulas.

Costas Tassoulas told reporters his country was campaigning to have the marbles returned in the name of Greece but also “in the name of world heritage”.

Greece maintains the marbles were illegally removed and should be returned for display in a new Athens museum.

However, the British Museum and British government reject the argument.

A leading Oxford expert on classical archaeology, John Boardman, recently warned that such a move would set an “appalling precedent” for the British Museum and museums like it.

Correspondents say the hiring of Amal Clooney will raise the profile of the Greek campaign.

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Greece and China have signed business deals worth about $5 billion during Chinese PM Li Keqiang’s visit.

Deals signed covered areas including exports and shipbuilding. China also showed an interest in buying railways and building an airport in Crete.

China is eager to take a majority stake in the Piraeus port. A Chinese company already runs two piers at the port.

Greece and China have signed business deals worth about $5 billion during Chinese PM Li Keqiang's visit

Greece and China have signed business deals worth about $5 billion during Chinese PM Li Keqiang’s visit

Greece is keen to attract foreign investment to reduce its national debt and high unemployment rate.

Li Keqiang has been in Greece as part of a tour of European countries. It is his first visit there since he took office in 2013.

“China attaches great importance to Greece’s unique geographic advantage of being a gateway to Europe,” the two countries said earlier in a joint statement.

Greek PM Antonis Samaras said China was interested in Greece’s airports, and he hoped the country could “become a transit hub for air transport”.

Li Keqiang described the port of Piraeus as “a pearl in the Mediterranean Sea” and said it could become “one of the most competitive ports of the world”.

China’s state-run shipping company, Cosco, won a 35-year lease to expand two main container terminals at the port in 2008.

It also wants to invest $310 millio in expanding the port, in a deal that would require European Union approval.

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The headquarters of Greece’s former state broadcaster ERT have been cleared by riot police, using tear gas to gain entry and arresting several people.

Police formed a cordon round the building in Athens, before going from room to room to evacuate protesters.

Former employees have occupied the building since the government closed ERT and sacked its 2,600 staff in June.

Greece’s conservative-led coalition said the state broadcaster cost too much to run in an economic crisis.

The closure of ERT prompted a left-wing party to withdraw from the governing coalition of PM Antonis Samaras in protest – a move which almost brought down the government.

Following the announcement of ERT’s closure in June, hundreds of staff refused to leave the building and continued to broadcast their programming via the internet.

The headquarters of Greece’s former state broadcaster ERT have been cleared by riot police

The headquarters of Greece’s former state broadcaster ERT have been cleared by riot police

Early on Thursday, Greek police arrived to secure the building in Agia Paraskevi, a suburb in the north of Athens.

Riot police used tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters outside the building, and then cleared each room inside.

Twenty or so workers were led out but three refused to go and were arrested. Police have now surrounded the building and protesters are gathering.

The state-run Athens News Agency reported that Panagiotis Kalfagiannis, a journalist and head of the ERT employees’ union, Pospert, was one of those held for public order offences.

ERT was Greece’s only TV broadcaster until the advent of private TV channels in 1989.

Despite several major overhauls to keep up with fierce private competition, a fall in ERT’s ratings in the mid-1990s triggered a long-running debate about its cost and efficiency.

In June, as Greece attempted to satisfy international creditors that it was fulfilling its debt restructuring and bailout commitments, PM Antonis Samaras announced the closure of ERT.

Antonis Samaras said the Greek exchequer could no longer afford to pay for a public broadcaster that cost more than $400,000 a year to run, and has refused to reinstate ERT unless it accepts a complete restructuring.

An interim TV station, called Public TV or DT, has been broadcasting in Greece since July while a restructured public broadcaster, called Nerit, is not expected to begin operating before 2014.

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Leader of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party Nikos Michaloliakos is to appear in court to answer charges of organizing a criminal group.

Nikos Michaloliakos was one of six MPs arrested over the weekend amid outrage over the recent murder of an anti-racist musician.

Three of the detained MPs have been freed pending trial while a fourth was remanded in custody.

All four denied the charges against them during a marathon court hearing in Athens.

In all, 22 people were detained following the September 18 murder of Pavlos Fyssas.

A man held for the stabbing told police he was a Golden Dawn supporter, though the party strongly denies any link.

Nikos Michaloliakos faces charges including murder, assault and money-laundering.

According to Greek law, he will set out a preliminary defense argument when he appears before an investigative judge on Wednesday.

The judge will then decide – on the basis of the charges and the defense statement – whether to grant bail or remand Nikos Michaloliakos in custody pending his full trial, which the authorities are keen to conclude swiftly.

MP and party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris was freed on Wednesday on bail of 50,000 euros ($68,000) and banned from leaving the country. Fellow MPs Ilias Panagiotaros and Nikos Michos were freed under travel bans but with no bail set.

A fourth MP, Yannis Lagos, was remanded in custody.

The plea session lasted 18 hours, Reuters news agency reports.

Nikos Michaloliakos is to appear in court to answer charges of organizing a criminal group

Nikos Michaloliakos is to appear in court to answer charges of organizing a criminal group

Nikos Michaloliakos’s deputy, Christos Pappas, is set to appear in court in the coming days.

Any MPs finally convicted would lose their seats in parliament, prompting by-elections and – the government hopes – leading to the destruction of Greece’s neo-Nazi party.

During Tuesday’s court appearances, there was a heavy presence of riot police – a reminder that despite falling popularity in the opinion polls, the party still commands significant support.

Supporters outside court chanted slogans, including “You are heroes!”

Details from witness testimony have been emerging about the way in which the party operated.

The testimony speaks of a strict hierarchical structure – or “Fuehrer principle” as the indictment calls it – as well as assault squads and military-style training.

Searches of the homes of some MPs have found Nazi paraphernalia as well as unlicensed weapons, ammunition and bundles of cash.

The crackdown was sparked by outrage at the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas, 34, whose stage name was Killah P.

George Roupakias, 45, who said he was a supporter of Golden Dawn, was arrested in connection with the killing.

On Friday, Golden Dawn – which won nearly 7% of the vote in 2012 elections – threatened to pull its 18 MPs out of the 300-strong parliament.

The governing coalition headed by PM Antonis Samaras, which has 155 seats, would then face by-elections.

Speaking on a visit to the US on Monday, Antonis Samaras vowed to eradicate the “shame of neo-Nazism”.

In recent months, Golden Dawn has been accused of perpetrating attacks on migrants and political opponents.

Golden Dawn officially denies being a neo-Nazi movement, despite its swastika-like insignia.

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Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has said a small number of people could be hired to produce news and current affairs programmes until a new public service broadcaster is set up.

Antonis Samaras has been heavily criticized for ordering the sudden closure of public broadcaster ERT.

The offer of a concession follows pressure from the PM’s partners in the coalition government.

ERT’s sudden closure is part of the drive to cut government spending.

The government said the closure was an essential measure to help meet the country’s debt bailout obligations.

It described ERT as a “haven of waste” and said it would relaunch it as a smaller, independent public broadcaster.

Antonis Samaras is due to meet his coalition partners on Monday to discuss the issue.

He wants the replacement broadcaster to be established by the summer.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has called on the Greek government to reopen ERT.

Greek PM Antonis Samaras has said a small number of people could be hired to produce news and current affairs programmes at ERT

Greek PM Antonis Samaras has said a small number of people could be hired to produce news and current affairs programmes at ERT

A petition signed by 51 European directors general is to be handed over to the Athens government.

The EBU called the government’s action “anti-democratic” and “unprofessional”.

Viewers watching the news on the main ERT TV channel saw broadcasting cease late on Tuesday evening.

Journalists however refused to leave the building and online and satellite broadcasts are being maintained with the help of the EBU website.

ERT, which began broadcasting in 1938, was funded by a direct payment of 4.30 euros ($5.6) added monthly to electricity bills.

It ran three domestic TV channels, four national radio stations, as well regional radio stations and an external service, Voice of Greece.

Since its sudden closure, nearly 2,700 workers have lost their jobs, but they will be able to apply to work for the new corporation.

Employees have protested outside the building since Tuesday and the closure also sparked a 24-hour general strike in the country.

The Greek government has pledged to cut thousands of public-sector jobs in order to receive billions of euros in rescue loans from the EU and IMF.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged Germany’s continuing support to Greece, during her first visit to Athens since the eurozone crisis erupted nearly three years ago.

Angela Merkel said Greece had made good progress in dealing with its vast debt but that it was on a “difficult path”.

Thousands of people who blame Germany for forcing painful austerity measures on Greece are protesting in Athens.

Police have used teargas and stun grenades against demonstrators.

Correspondents say this highly symbolic visit is a show of support for Greece’s continued membership of the eurozone.

It comes as Greece prepares to pass new cuts of 13 billion euros ($17 billion) to qualify for more bailout cash, a policy that has sparked growing unrest.

While Germany has contributed the most money to the bailout, its chancellor is held responsible by many for demanding that Greece make swingeing cuts in exchange for the financing it has received.

Angela Merkel was met by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on arrival in Athens.

At a news conference after talks with Antonis Samaras and business leaders, Angela Merkel said the pace of reform in Greece had recently “picked up considerably” and that the country had “a good bit of the path” behind it.

“Much has been achieved but much needs to be done and Germany and Greece will continue to co-operate very closely together in this respect,” she said.

Angela Merkel acknowledged that there were “many people suffering in Greece” as a result of the financial crisis and austerity measures, but that the difficult path was necessary to ensure future generations could live in prosperity

Antonis Samaras said their meeting had been “dominated by frankness, mutual understanding, solidarity, a spirit of collaboration and a feeling that we can overcome the Greek problem, and obviously, the European problems alike”.

He said Greece was “determined to fulfill its obligations and overcome this crisis” and was determined to stay in the eurozone.

“The Greek people are bleeding right now, but they are determined to win the battle of competitiveness.”

Angela Merkel’s visit was a “token of proof” of the progress Greece has made, he said.

Athens is said to be carrying out its biggest security operation in a decade, with some 7,000 police on duty.

Protests have been banned for the day in much of central Athens, and within a 100 m radius of the route Angela Merkel’s motorcade will travel.

However, outside the lockdown zone, thousands of people gathered, some carrying banners with slogans such as “No to the Fourth Reich”.

A three-hour strike was also called for the early afternoon.

The crowds have largely been peaceful, though some protesters threw bottles, masonry and rocks towards police lines.

The situation in central Syntagma Square turned nasty, with police firing teargas and stun grenades against grounds of protesters.

Dozens of people have been detained.

Christina Vassilopoulou, a 37-year-old teacher taking part in the unrest, said she objected to “the decisions taken at European meetings where Merkel manipulates the participants”.

“I have a doctorate and I make 900 euros a month, 400 less than before. We have children that go hungry and most of the parents are unemployed,” she told AFP news agency.

Vana Koronaiou, a shop owner selling German-made handbags near Syntagma Square, told AFP Angela Merkel’s visit “pours oil on the fire”.

“If she wanted to help, she should have done it sooner,” she said.

But some Athens citizens were upbeat about the visit.

Constantinos Siathas told Associated Press: “I think most people, at least those who think and don’t act based on feelings or utopian ideas, are pleased and are expecting a lot from Angela Merkel’s visit.”

Earlier, a spokesperson for the leftist Syriza party, Yiannis Bournos, said people were “frustrated and enraged because they clearly understand that Mrs. Merkel’s visit is just a theatre play for the political support of a collapsing coalition”.

The trip is a gamble, chaos on the streets would only underline for the German public that Greece is a lost cause.

But the visit – Angela Merkel’s first to Greece in five years – is sending a symbolic message that she wants Greece to stay in the eurozone.

Speaking on Monday, Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup finance ministers of the eurozone, raised the pressure on Greece, calling on the government to demonstrate it could implement planned reforms “by 18 October at the latest” to qualify for the next bailout installment of 31.5 billion euros.

He was speaking as the eurozone’s new permanent fund to bail out struggling economies and banks was formally launched at the finance ministers’ meeting.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday that the global economic recovery was weakening, with government policies having failed to restore confidence.

It added that the risk of further deterioration in the economic outlook was “considerable” and had increased.

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French President Francois Hollande has urged Greece to prove it can pass reforms demanded by international creditors, after talks with PM Antonis Samaras.

Greek PM Antonis Samaras has been appealing for more time to introduce the reforms.

But Francois Hollande said no further decision could be taken until European ministers consider a major report on Greece’s finances, due in September.

Donors including the EU insist Greece has to make major spending cuts.

These are needed if Greece is to secure the next tranche of its bailout.

French President Francois Hollande has urged Greece to prove it can pass reforms demanded by international creditors, after talks with PM Antonis Samaras

French President Francois Hollande has urged Greece to prove it can pass reforms demanded by international creditors, after talks with PM Antonis Samaras

The Greek government is under pressure to win concessions from Europe to placate the tired nation and lessen the likelihood of a destabilizing period of social unrest.

Antonis Samaras is seeking an extension of up to two years for the necessary reforms, in order to provide Greece with the growth needed to improve its public finances.

In talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this week, he was told that the decision would depend on a report from the so-called troika – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission.

Francois Hollande also said Europe needed to consider the report before it could make any further decisions on Greece.

He said decisions on whether to grant Greece more time should be taken when European finance ministers meet in early October.

“We’ve been facing this question for two and a half years, there’s no time to lose, there are commitments to reaffirm on both sides, decisions to take, and the sooner the better,” he said.

Greece’s continued access to the bailout packages depends on a favorable report from the troika.

Athens is trying to finalize a package of 11.5 billion euros ($14.4 billion) of spending cuts over the next two years.

It is also being asked to put in place economic and structural reforms, including changes to the labor market and a renewed privatization drive.

The measures are needed to qualify for the next 33.5 billion-euro installment of its second 130bn-euro bailout.

Greece needs the funds to make repayments on its debt burden. A default could result in the country leaving the euro.

 

Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to repeat his plea for more time to implement reforms when he meets French President Francois Hollande.

The talks in Paris come a day after Antonis Samaras asked for his country to be given “breathing space” during talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Angela Merkel said she wanted Athens to remain in the eurozone but expected it to stick to the tough bailout terms.

The French leader is now likely to echo that message, correspondents say.

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande met on Thursday to discuss Greece and urged Athens to stick with the tough reforms.

Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to repeat his plea for more time to implement reforms when he meets French President Francois Hollande

Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to repeat his plea for more time to implement reforms when he meets French President Francois Hollande

On Greece, the two leaders seem to be on the same page.

In Paris, Antonis Samaras is expected to call for more time to reduce the deficit, given the worse-than-expected recession and months lost this year due to elections, our correspondent says.

He adds that the Greek government is under pressure to win a concession from Europe so as to placate this tired nation and lessen the likelihood of a destabilizing period of social unrest.

After Friday’s talks with Angela Merkel in Berlin, Antonis Samaras said: “Greece will stick to its commitments and fulfill its obligations. In fact, this is already happening.

“We’re not asking for more money,” he said, adding that Greece needed “time to breathe”.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission – the group of donor bodies known collectively as the “troika” – are examining whether Greece is making sufficient progress towards reforming its public finances.

Greece’s continued access to the bailout packages depends on a favorable report from the trio, and an official report is due to be released next month.

Greece is currently trying to finalize a package of 11.5 billion euros ($14.4 billion) of spending cuts over the next two years.

It is also being asked to put in place economic and structural reforms, including changes to the labor market and a renewed privatization drive.

The measures are needed to qualify for the next 33.5 billion-euro installment of its second 130 billion-euro bailout.

Greece needs the funds to make repayments on its debt burden. A default could result in the country leaving the euro.

Antonis Samaras is seeking an extension of up to two years for the necessary reforms, in order to provide Greece with the growth needed to improve its public finances.

 

 

Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, has called for more time to implement tough spending cuts and reforms, ahead of talks on its bailout.

Antonis Samaras told German daily Bild that Greece needed “breathing space”.

He will meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers later, and the French and German leaders later this week.

At issue is whether Greece has done enough to receive its next 31.5 billion-euro bailout payment.

Failure to unlock the funds could lead to Greece defaulting on its vast public debt and possibly leaving the euro.

Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, has called for more time to implement tough spending cuts and reforms, ahead of talks on its bailout

Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, has called for more time to implement tough spending cuts and reforms, ahead of talks on its bailout

Antonis Samaras is under pressure to show Greece can fulfill its commitment of 11.5 billion euros in public spending cuts within two years in order to qualify for the money.

At the talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, he is expected to float the idea of Greece being given a two-year extension to the deadline.

He will argue that Greece has lost time because of elections this year, and that it should be allowed to move more gradually in order to ease the economic pain felt by the Greek people.

“Let me be very explicit: we demand no additional money. We stand by our commitments,” Antonis Samaras told German tabloid Bild in an interview published on Wednesday.

“But we have to kick-start growth in order to cut our deficit. All that we want is a little <<breathing space>> to revive the economy quickly and raise state income.”

However, a government source says Antonis Samaras will not press the issue too hard, fearing it might cause bad blood with the group of lenders that monitors Greece’s bailout.

Yannis Varoufakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens, said Antonis Samaras was “profoundly, deeply and sadly wrong. Greece does not need more breathing space. It is not breathing at all.”

He said the solution Europe had implemented to tackle Greece’s insolvency crisis was a “very silly one” – providing gigantic loans “on condition of austerity measures that would shrink the national income from which that huge loan would have to be repaid”, requiring yet more loans and more austerity.

Antonis Samaras goes on to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, and French President Francois Hollande on Saturday.

The “troika” – the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – is expected to report on Greece’s progress next month.

Eurozone leaders have so far resisted any move to soften the bailout conditions.

Especially in Germany, the eurozone’s richest country, the government is under pressure not to make any more concessions.

On Monday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle insisted Athens must press ahead with the terms already agreed.

The heavily-indebted country has received two massive EU and IMF bailouts – one for 130 billion euros this March and one for 100 billion euros in May 2010 – to allow it to continue payments on its vast public debt and stay in the eurozone.

Cuts in public spending, benefits, pensions and public sector salaries imposed as a result of both loans have led to severe economic hardship, and Greece remains mired in recession.