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Greek debt talks halted as Tsipras blasts creditors
[BRUSSELS] Eurozone finance ministers on Wednesday halted crunch talks on a desperately needed Greece bailout deal until the next day, as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lashed out at his country's creditors.
The ministers said that a "difficult" seven-hour meeting between Greece's leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Athens's EU-IMF creditors earlier Wednesday had failed to give them enough to work towards a deal through the night.
Time is running out, with Athens needing an accord to unlock vital bailout funds and avoid defaulting on a huge International Monetary Fund payment on June 30, putting its place in the eurozone at risk.
"We have not reached agreement yet, but we are determined to continue our work towards doing what is necessary," Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem told reporters after the talks broke up after around one hour.
"We will now adjourn the meeting and reconvene at one o'clock tomorrow (1100 GMT)." Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said he still hoped for a deal.
"I don't see this meeting as a waste of time because we will have a meeting tomorrow morning and hopefully find a proposal on the table," he said.
Tsipras and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker were due to hold fresh talks starting at 11pm (2100 GMT) on Wednesday night, European sources said.
Eurozone stock markets fell at close, weighed down by renewed concerns about a deal, with Frankfurt dropping 0.62 per cent, Paris sliding 0.24 per cent, Madrid 0.82 per cent lower, Milan down 0.16 per cent and Greece losing 1.77 per cent.
"We are in a face-saving game," a source close to the negotiation said after the round of minister talks ended, the third in less than a week.
Anti-austerity leader Tsipras had flown to Brussels early Wednesday for a crunch meeting with Juncker, IMF chief Christine Lagarde and European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi.
But Athens rejected what it said were fresh demands from its creditors on top of a reform plan that it submitted last week to end a five-month standoff that started with Mr Tsipras's election in January.
"This strange position maybe hides two things: either they do not want an agreement or they are serving specific interests in Greece," Mr Tsipras said as he went into the talks.
"The repeated rejection of equivalent measures by certain institutions never occurred before - neither in Ireland nor Portugal," he tweeted, referring to bailouts to those two countries.
Tsipras has vowed to end five years of austerity imposed under two bailouts worth 240 billion euros, and has resisted demands by creditors for spending cuts and pension reforms.
But the European-IMF lenders have refused to unlock the last 7.2 billion euros (S$10.84 billion) of Greece's bailout before it expires on June 30, which Greece needs to pay a 1.5-billion-euro IMF loan repayment on the same day.
EU President Donald Tusk warned last week of the risk of a "chaotic uncontrollable Grexident" - Greece crashing out of the 19-country single currency and possibly even the 28-nation European Union.
The new plans submitted Sunday by Tsipras's anti-austerity government aim to raise eight billion euros, mostly through new taxes on the wealthy and businesses, VAT increases and a cut in defence spending.
But in counter-proposals handed to Greece on Tuesday, creditors are calling for early retirement to be abolished and an increase in the retirement age from 62 to 67 by 2022, not 2025.
They are sticking to demands for a 23 per cent value-added tax rate for restaurants, instead of the current 13 per cent. Athens is fearful of the consequences to its valuable tourism sector.
Creditors also propose to increase corporation tax to 28 per cent from the current 26 per cent, instead of the Greek plan to raise it to 29 per cent from 2016 onwards.
And they want defence expenditure to be slashed by 400 million euros instead of the proposed 200 million euros.
Greece's banking system has been kept afloat by cash injections from the ECB as wary Greeks withdraw their deposits, and on Wednesday it increased for the fifth time in eight days emergency liquidity funds.
The Greek government meanwhile warned that any accord would have to be approved by a parliamentary majority before June 30, which risks splitting Mr Tsipras's Syriza party, where many on the left wing view him as reneging on campaign promises.
Any Greek agreement will also need to deal with what comes next, with EU officials suggesting an extension of the bailout until the end of the year, followed by a possible third aid package to keep Greece afloat.
The two huge bailouts since the Greek crisis erupted in 2010 have left it with debt totalling nearly 180 per cent of its annual economic output.