Friday 25 May 2018

Athens stock exchange to reopen as bailout talks continue

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras addresses a meeting of his ruling radical left Syriza party's central committee in Athens (AP)
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras addresses a meeting of his ruling radical left Syriza party's central committee in Athens (AP)

The Athens Stock Exchange will reopen on Monday as talks with international creditors shifted into a higher gear.

The exchange has been closed since June 29, when the government in Greece imposed capital controls to prevent a banking collapse.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos signed the order that also includes restrictions for Greece-based traders for an unspecified time period. A 60 euro limit on cash machines withdrawal will remain in place.

Mr Tsakalotos met with lead negotiators from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to start negotiations for a third bailout worth 85 billion euro (£59 billion), following several days of preparatory meetings between lower-level officials on reforming the tax system and labour market regulations.

The third bailout will include a new punishing round of austerity measures heaped on a country reeling from a six-year recession and more than 25% unemployment. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has pledged to back the new cutbacks, while openly admitting that he disagrees with them.

"We will implement them, yes, because we are forced to," he said in parliament today. "But at the same time we will struggle to change them, to improve them and to counter their negative consequences."

The bailout talks with the IMF, European Commission, European Central Bank and European Stability Mechanism must be concluded before August 20 when a debt repayment to the ECB worth more than three billion euro (£2.1 billion) is due - money which Greece does not have.

Mr Tsakalotos said the talks are focused on how to recapitalise Greece's battered banking system, whose deposit base was badly hit in recent months as Greeks fearing a euro exit emptied their accounts. The talks also addressed Greece's privatisation commitments and budget surplus targets.

"As you can understand, there was convergence on some points, and less convergence on others," he said.

Today's meetings came hours after Mr Tsipras defeated a bid by dissenters in his left-wing Syriza party to push for an end to bailout negotiations and seek a return to the old national currency, the drachma.

The party's governing central committee backed a proposal by Mr Tsipras to hold an emergency party conference in September, after the talks have been concluded.

Dissenters had sought a conference earlier, pressing the government to abandon the negotiations.

In Parliament, Mr Tsipras defended his flamboyant former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who came under heavy fire over revelations that he had drafted contingency plans for a parallel payment system that could have eased a euro exit.

"Of course I issued personal instructions to the finance minister to create a team that would work on a plan of defence in the event of a national emergency," he told parliament, answering a question from the opposition. "It would have been politically naive and irresponsible not to do so. Does that mean ... that I was seeking an emergency?" he said, angrily rejecting accusations that he had intended to take the country out of the 19-country eurozone.

Press Association

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