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Greece 'danger' dominates EU summit

Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 19:36

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Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will plead with European counterparts at a summit in Brussels on Thursday for cash to keep his country afloat and in the euro as officials warned that the situation was becoming "dangerous".

[BRUSSELS] Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will plead with European counterparts at a summit in Brussels on Thursday for cash to keep his country afloat and in the euro as officials warned that the situation was becoming "dangerous".

European Union leaders will also debate whether to extend economic sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict until December, although they will likely delay the decision until later this year.

While Greece is not officially on the agenda for the meeting of the bloc's 28 leaders, a senior EU official said it was the "elephant in the room" amid fears of a catastrophic "Grexit" from the single currency.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament on Thursday that there was no reason to "despair" over Greece, although Europe's most powerful leader played down the chance of any deal at the summit.

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"It is absolutely clear that nobody can expect a solution to be found this evening in Brussels or on Monday evening," when she is due to meet radical new leader Mr Tsipras in Berlin, Ms Merkel said.

EU President Donald Tusk has convened special talks on the sidelines of the summit on Thursday night among Mr Tsipras, Ms Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, at the request of the Greek premier, Tusk's spokesman told AFP.

The meeting will also be attended by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the euro single currency group.

Leftist leader Mr Tsipras, who won elections in January, will urge them to accept Greece's promises of reform in return for relaxing the terms of its EU-IMF bailout, and to release vital funds to help his country avoid a looming cash crunch.

But Mr Juncker said he would "repeat (to Tsipras) what I have said twice before: Greece must undertake the necessary reforms, Greece must ensure that the commitments it made to the Eurogroup in 2012 and more recently are followed up."

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said that the situation in Greece was "dangerous" and that Athens needed "two or three billion" euros in the short term.

"Time is short. I think the government will have to give way in the end," he told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

Sources said the Greek government believes the EU is "not respecting" last month's deal for a four-month extension of its 240-billion-euro (S$351-billion) bailout, and wants Brussels to give it the final tranche of around seven billion euros.

Greece's deputy prime minister Ioannis Dragasakis accused creditors of "not letting us govern", telling Alpha TV that "we have a liquidity problem." With the rhetoric toughening on all sides, the Greek parliament on Wednesday adopted a "humanitarian crisis" bill aimed at helping the poor, ignoring apparent pressure from the EU to halt the legislation.

Friday brings a key debt deadline when Greece must pay 300 million euros to the IMF and 1.6 billion euros in treasury bills.

Extending EU economic sector sanctions imposed on Russia last July after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine is the other key issue on the summit agenda.

In Brussels, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned EU leaders Thursday to keep the pressure on Russia, saying it would be a "disaster" if they allowed President Vladimir Putin to "split the unity" over sanctions.

The summit comes just after Russian celebrations over the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea.

Some of the 28 EU member states want the summit to agree to rollover these economic sanctions to end-2015, linking them to the timeline - and the success or failure - of the February Minsk ceasefire accord.

Others believe the bloc should wait to see how the situation develops on the ground in eastern Ukraine, leaving a rollover decision to the June EU summit, or even until July.

Diplomatic sources said the most likely outcome is that EU leaders ask the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to begin work so the sanctions can be rolled over in June.

"New sanctions won't happen", diplomats said.

The EU leaders are also expected to back the creation of a media team aimed at countering Russian "disinformation".

AFP

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