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Greece's Tsipras attacks creditors over 'absurd' reforms

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Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday attacked the country's creditors for insisting on what he described as "absurd" reforms which have only held up progress in negotiations for a deal aimed at preventing his country from defaulting.

[ATHENS] Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday attacked the country's creditors for insisting on what he described as "absurd" reforms which have only held up progress in negotiations for a deal aimed at preventing his country from defaulting.

His remarks came as IMF chief Christine Lagarde and ECB President Mario Draghi unexpectedly joined the leaders of France, Germany and the head of the European Commission for talks on Greece's debt crisis.

"The lack of an agreement so far is not due to the supposed intransigent, uncompromising and incomprehensible Greek stance," Mr Tsipras wrote in a column published by French newspaper Le Monde.

"It is due to the insistence of certain institutional actors on submitting absurd proposals and displaying a total indifference to the recent democratic choice of the Greek people," he added.

Greece has been locked in talks with its creditors - the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank - in a bid to unlock 7.2 billion euros (US$7.9 billion) in bailout funds.

However, a deal has so far proved elusive as the creditors are demanding greater reforms in return for the cash, which the Tsipras's government - elected on an anti-austerity bill - has refused to match.

Mr Tsipras said his government has made concessions, including agreeing to implement a series of privatisations it had previously opposed.

It has also agreed to reform the value added tax system as well as the pension system.

Rather than imposing further austerity that has so far only served to drive Greece into a deeper recession, he said his government has also submitted proposals to raise revenues.

These include a special tax on the very wealthy, greater efforts towards clamping down on tax evasion, and putting broadcasting and other licences up for tender.

Taking a more conciliatory approach, Economy Minister Yiorgos Stathakis told a Greek daily the country's only way forward was to make a deal with international creditors.

"Reaching an agreement is the only way, there is no other way," Mr Stathakis told Realnews in an interview published Sunday.

"Otherwise Greece above all, but also the EU, will enter into unknown territory," he added.

"We want to reach an agreement so we can ensure the sums (of money) we need, so that we can meet our obligations at home and internationally." The minister also said Greece would "honour its debts" and meet its June 5 deadline to pay the IMF the 300 million euros (US$340 million) it owes.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker meanwhile reiterated his opposition to a Greek exit from the eurozone, in an interview with German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"I do not share the idea that we would have fewer problems and constraints if Greece left the euro," said Mr Juncker.

Mr Juncker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande met Ms Largarde and Mr Draghi late Monday in Berlin in order to build a proposal to present to Athens.

The German chancellor's office said after the meeting that the quintet agreed to continue to work together "intensely" and would stay in "close contact in the coming days".

The impromptu gathering followed a phone conference Sunday between Ms Merkel, Mr Hollande, Mr Juncker and Mr Tsipras, which Ms Merkel's spokeswoman described as "constructive".

But the group did not speak to Mr Tsipras Monday as had been expected.

In Le Monde, Mr Tsipras warned that Europe was at a crossroads, and could choose between a strategy of greater integration or one of division.

Those seeking the second strategy are simply seeking to inflict harsh punishment and mandatory austerity, with "Greece being the first victim", he said.

"To some, this represents a golden opportunity to make an example out of Greece for other countries that might be thinking of not following this new line of discipline," he wrote.

"Which strategy will prevail? The one that calls for a Europe of solidarity, equality and democracy, or the one that calls for rupture and division?"

AFP