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Greek PM 'unshakeable' on election pledges, calls for EU bridge loan
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[ATHENS] A defiant Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday said he would be "unshakeable" in carrying out the new Greek government's anti-austerity agenda as he called for temporary EU funding to help stave off a default.
"Greece wants to service its debt," Mr Tsipras told parliament in a keynote speech on the government's economic policy.
"If our (EU) peers want this too, they are invited to come to dialogue so we can discuss how to make it viable," the premier said, adding that Greece would not seek an extension of its bailout.
"We want a new deal, a bridge programme...until June... which would give us the fiscal space that a sincere negotiation requires."
Sunday's speech comes ahead of a critical meeting with eurozone finance ministers this week when Athens will push for a new debt deal with international creditors, amid mounting fears that Greece could default on its loans and exit the eurozone.
In a rousing address, often interrupted by the applause of lawmakers, Mr Tsipras stressed the hard-left government's "unshakeable decision to honour all our pre-election promises." "Greece is making proposals. It does not take orders, and not by email at that," he told the 300-seat chamber.
"Greeks deserve to walk proud, to live with respect," he said.
Mr Tsipras said he was pulling the plug on the "fire sale" of state assets, stressing that the government would examine investor proposals but would not "sell out" the country's natural and mineral wealth.
And in a statement sure to aggravate already strained ties with Berlin, Mr Tsipras said Greece had a "moral obligation" to claim reparations from Germany for the damages wrought by the Nazis during World War II.
Mr Tsipras's anti-austerity Syriza party claims Germany owes it around 162 billion euros (S$248 billion) - or around half the country's public debt, which stands at over 315 billion euros.
Mr Tsipras also announced that the minimum wage would gradually increase from 580 euros to 751 euros by 2016 and that labour laws would be amended to prevent worker "exploitation".
He also pledged to tackle corruption and hunt down tax cheats.
He said his administration would trim costs by selling state cars and a government jet, but gave few other indications of how the reforms are to be financed.
A vote of confidence on the government agenda will be held late on Tuesday.
After a diplomatic blitz of European capitals by Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis last week, Athens will take its proposals to an extraordinary meeting of eurozone finance ministers Wednesday in Brussels.
The following day Tsipras will hold his first face-to-face talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at an EU summit.
So far Greece's demands for more time to renegotiate the country's massive 240-billion-euro EU-IMF rescue deal have hit a wall, with European paymaster Germany vehemently opposed.
The European portion of the bailout is due to expire at the end of the month, putting Athens under pressure to do a quick deal.
Hanging in the balance for Greece is the final 1.8 billion euro loan instalment from the eurozone, but the Syriza government objects to the austerity measures at the heart of current bailout and says it would prefer to refuse the cash and start from scratch with a new deal.
On Friday, the two-week-old government appealed for temporary funding from its EU partners to tide it over while continuing the negotiations.
With no agreement appearing close at hand, credit ratings agencies warned Friday that Greece was heading closer to defaulting on its loans, a move that could see it exit the eurozone.
Standard and Poor's downgraded Greece to just one notch above the range indicating vulnerability to a default, and warned of a "worst-case scenario" in which it would leave the single currency.
Moody's said it was placing Greece on review for a downgrade because of "considerable uncertainty regarding the outcome of the ensuing negotiations".
'LEAVING THE EUROZONE'
The former head of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, told the BBC on Sunday that he expected Greece would have to leave the eurozone.
"It is a crisis and I don't see it being resolved easily, in fact I don't see it being resolved without Greece leaving the eurozone," he said.
Greece is expected to return to growth this year after six years of recession that has left it with sky-high unemployment and its economy in tatters.
But after the European Central Bank pulled the plug on a key source of funding for Greece's banks this week, the banks - and by extension the state - are now reliant on the Frankfurt bank's emergency liquidity funds.
As part of its push for a restart in relations with its lenders, Greece is refusing to negotiate with officials representing the EU-IMF-ECB troika that have been overseeing the implementation of reforms.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz of Germany suggested a possible compromise.
In an interview with Germany's Tagesspiegel am Sonntag, Mr Schulz said Greece could "report on its progress to its EU and IMF partners" directly.