Greek-Chinese bidders closer to privatization deal

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A state privatization agency in Greece says it has received an improved offer to develop a coastal Olympic complex, left largely abandoned since Athens hosted the 2004 Games.

Greece's Lamda Development increased its offer by 25 percent to 915 million euros ($1.26 billion) for the project at Hellenikon, the Greek capital's former airport that hosted six Olympic events, the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund said late Wednesday.

Lamda's bid is backed by the Chinese Fosun Group and Al Maabar of Abu-Dhabi. The project would include the creation of a 200-hectare (494-acre) park, sports and recreation facilities and other commercial areas.

Many of the 2004 venues have been underused or virtually abandoned in the decade since the games, and further neglected in recent years after the country slumped into financial crisis. The government has struggled to attract investors to its troubled privatization program, a criticism often made by bailout lenders who are now pressing Greece to maintain high taxes until public finances further improve.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said Wednesday that an unpopular austerity tax known as the solidarity surcharge would be extended for "as long as needed" to keep the budget deficit within limits set by recue creditors.

The levy was due to end next year, but Stournaras told private Skai radio it would be imposed until budget improvements become "permanent and sustainable." Protests, meanwhile, continued against a new austerity deal reached this month between Greece and lenders from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Pharmacies around most of the country closed in protest at new licensing rules. And in central Athens, riot police forcibly removed protesting cleaning staff affected by recent state job cuts from inside the Finance Ministry.

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