Greece’s new finance chief admits debt reform problems

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ATHENS — Greece is falling short of some commitments made in return for billions of euros of rescue money, the country’s new finance minister admitted Thursday after meeting representatives of the country’s financial rescuers for the first time.

After months of political turmoil that led to a hiatus in the implementation of reforms as Greece struggled through two inconclusive elections, the country’s international debt inspectors from the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund have returned to Athens for the first time in more than three months to inspect the status of the debt-ridden country’s finances.

“The pre-election period was long,” Yannis Stournaras said as he officially took over the ministry after his first meeting with the inspectors, collectively known as the troika. “Some parts of the program are off track and some are on track.”

Greece endured two national elections in May and June, neither of which left a party with enough of a majority to form a government on its own. A coalition government comprising the first-place conservatives, their traditional rivals, the socialists, and a small left-wing party was formed after June 17 elections.

The new government, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, has said it will seek to persuade the country’s rescue creditors to ease some of the strict terms of its bailout.

“These are difficult times and I am assuming the position at the most difficult time for the Greek economy,” Mr. Stournaras said as he took over from the caretaker minister, Giorgos Zanias. “We are heading straight into deep water.”

Promising “hard work,” Mr. Stournaras noted that “the years ahead are difficult. I do see light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long.”

Greece has had to impose harsh austerity measures, including big cuts to pensions and salaries, to secure billions of euros worth of rescue loans from the IMF and other European countries that use the euro and avoid bankruptcy.

But the reforms have contributed to an increase in the country’s unemployment rate to more than 22 percent and left the country mired in a fifth year of recession.

The hardship led voters furious with mainstream politicians’ handing of the crisis to abandon the traditionally dominant parties in droves in favor of smaller anti-bailout parties advocating that Greece renege on its bailout conditions.

Ahead of the government’s policy statement, which Mr. Samaras is to present in parliament Friday, the governing coalition has said it advocates easing some terms of the bailout agreement, including freezing public sector layoffs and repealing some tax increases.

But whether Greece can revise the terms of its two bailouts, worth a total of $300 billion, will depend on how the proposals are viewed by its creditors.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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