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'Progress' in Greek talks on austerity package but no deal yet

Greece and its international lenders made progress on hammering out a contentious austerity package but failed to clinch a deal at the last round of talks before visiting inspectors leave Athens this weekend, officials said yesterday.

The talks -- marred by tension and disagreement over public-sector reform -- are due to resume in a week when inspectors from the so-called troika of European Commission, ECB and IMF return to Athens.

Near-bankrupt Greece needs the troika's blessing on the spending cuts worth nearly €12bn to unlock its next tranche of aid, without which it faces certain default and a potential exit from the eurozone.

"There has been progress . . . the talks are continuing," a Greek finance ministry official told reporters. "We have agreed on a number of measures but more are needed."

The EU and IMF also confirmed a "brief pause" in talks, which it said had notched up progress.

Productive

"The mission has had productive discussions with the authorities since early September and has made good progress during this period," the EU and IMF said.

The austerity package needed to be finished by next Friday, the Greek official said.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government has acknowledged that the talks with the troika have been "difficult", with the inspectors pressing Athens to make deep cuts and accept an end to its taboo on firing civil servants.

So far, Greek officials said agreement on €9.5bn of the €11.5bn package of spending cuts had been reached. That includes €6.5bn in cuts to wages, pensions and benefit payments and a further €1.1bn in savings planned from an increase in the retirement age. (Reuters)

Irish Independent