Markets

Greece: Talks on debt relief could start in May

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Long-awaited talks between Greece and its rescue creditors to make the country's debt sustainable could start as early as next month and would likely last until the fall or beyond, a senior official in the Greek government said Wednesday.

Greece's national debt is still considered unsustainable despite massive spending cuts, after the recession shrank the economy by about 25 percent. Debt is predicted to reach 175 percent of gross domestic output this year.

The lion's share of that debt is now comprised of money from the bailout loans received from other eurozone countries, which Greece has been hoping might agree to ease the terms of repayment. Experts say Greece could, among other things, be given better lower interest rates or more time.

Greece is currently drawing on two international bailout programs, worth a total of 240 billion euros ($331 billion) in loans, and the country is hoping to avoid piling on additional loans. The government official spoke only on condition of anonymity because talks on debt relief will not be official before the publication of Greece's 2013 budget deficit figures later this month.

In the shorter-term, Greece faces a shortfall in its funding plans through 2016. The country could try to make up some of it by raising money on financial markets — the government said Tuesday it plans to tap bond markets in the first half of the year for the first time since it was bailed out in 2010.

Greece could also use 11 billion euros ($15 billion) of unspent money in bank rescue funds, the government official said. "We have an 11 billion safety cushion. That's a significant sum," said the official.

He added, however, that Athens would await an October assessment of eurozone banks' capital needs by the European Central Bank before making a decision. Greek police imposed stringent security measures around the site of a two-day meeting of European finance ministers in Athens.

Police officers clashed late Tuesday with anti-austerity demonstrators who challenged a protest cordon that covered most of the city center. Protests also occurred in Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki, where the rally ended peacefully. The cordon in Athens was lifted on Wednesday afternoon.

__ Associated Press writer Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed.

Related Headlines

  • Back from cold, Greece announces market return

    Greece is on the brink of escaping the financial wilderness. The eurozone's least credit-worthy country said Wednesday it is about to return to bond markets, for the first ... 

  • Mario Draghi

    Greece to return to bond markets in 1st half 2014

    Greece will tap bond markets in the next three months for the first time since it needed international rescue loans in 2010, the finance minister said Tuesday, hours after ... 

  • Greece: Clashes outside minister's office

    Greek riot police clashed with protesters who gathered outside the office of a government minister Thursday, the second day of a nationwide civil servants' strike. 

  • Greece expects higher budget surpluses

    Greece will achieve better-than-expected budget figures in 2014 but unemployment will only decline slowly over the next four years, the country's finance ministry said ...