Greek PM urges lenders to deliver on debt relief, end delays

October 13, 2016 3:41 PM EDT

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras poses for a portrait on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly


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By George Georgiopoulos and Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece signaled on Thursday that it was running out of patience with international lenders sitting on the fence over its call for debt relief, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saying delays would damage the battered economy further.

Against the backdrop of a slump in ratings from unpopular economic reforms seen as vital under a multi-billion euro bailout program, the leftist party is seeking to rally its supporters at a three-day national congress.

"The July (bailout) accord is clear. As we abide by it, despite the costs, we expect our partners to keep their end of the deal. There is no more 'we will see'," Tsipras told a sea of cheering supporters in a conference hall in Athens.

Heavy taxation, pension cuts and the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone seven years into the crisis have seen his Syriza party tumble in ratings against opposition New Democracy, which is leading in some polls by up to 10 percentage points.

The crisis-hit country has been lobbying hard to get its debt, which at 176 percent of GDP is the highest in the euro zone, back to manageable levels. International lenders agree to the idea, but have yet to agree how it will work.

In May, euro zone governments offered Greece debt relief in 2018, but left key details to be decided later in an attempt to bridge Germany's view that no immediate action was needed and the International Monetary Fund's call for decisions now.

"There is no excuse for delaying the inclusion of Greece in the ECB's quantitative easing. The economy is on the cusp of recovery, it needs just a nod (from the ECB) to turn the recovery into a takeoff," Tsipras told party supporters.

But, he said, the continuous dispute among the country's lenders - its euro zone partners and the International Monetary Fund - was exactly the nod that Greece did not need.

The IMF has said it can only take part in Greece's latest bailout, brokered in mid-2015 and worth up to 86 billion euros, if its debt is sustainable. The Washington-based lender of last resort believes debt relief is essential.

Tsipras is pinning hopes on a deal following the conclusion by lenders of a second review of economic reforms required under its third multi-billion euro bailout. Athens and representatives of lenders formally start talks on the second review next week.

He said the government did not feel isolated in its effort to secure debt relief as support even in the German parliament was rising, referring to social democrats, the Left and the Green party.

"This must be comprehended by the German government," Tsipras said. "The Greek crisis must come to a definitive end. Europe cannot bear more turbulence, especially before crucial elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the referendum in Italy."

(Writing by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Dominic Evans)



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