Intense Greek talks for debt deal continue


ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Parties backing Greece's coalition government are meeting again Monday in an eleventh-hour effort to reach an austerity deal with rescue creditors, needed to avert bankruptcy in March, after an intense weekend of negotiations failed to produce a breakthrough.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos will meet leaders of three parties backing his coalition -- which all publicly oppose steep cuts in private sector pay demanded by negotiators representing eurozone lenders and the International Monetary Fund.

The new €130 billion ($171 billion) bailout deal is vital for Greece avoid bankruptcy next month as it cannot cover a €14.5 billion ($19.1 billion) bond repayment due March 20.

Tied to that deal are plans by banks and other private bondholders to forgive €100 billion ($131.6 billion) in Greek debt in exchange for a cash payment and new bonds with more lenient repayment terms.

Over the weekend, Greek officials held a conference call with eurozone finance ministers, as well as exhaustive rounds of talks in Athens with EU-IMF debt inspectors, senior bank negotiators, and Greek political party leaders, to try and hammer out a deal.

An announcement from Papademos' office said agreement had been reached to cut 2012 spending by 1.5 percent of gross domestic product -- about €3.3 billion ($4.3 billion) -- improve competitiveness by slashing wages and non-wage costs, and re-capitalize banks without nationalizing them.

But the three coalition backers -- Socialist George Papandreou, Conservative Antonis Samaras and George Karatzaferis of the rightist LAOS party -- differed as to what this would mean in detailed proposals.

"We are in the middle of a major struggle. Right now, the developments are satisfactory," said Karatzaferis, adding that EU-IMF negotiators had backed away from a demand to ax annual salary installments given to Greek workers as holiday bonuses.

Rescue lenders have also called for firings in Greece's large public sector, a drop in the €750 ($985) gross minimum monthly wage, and cuts in lump-sum retirement payouts, as part of a long list of cost-cutting demands.

Unions and employers' associations oppose the wage cuts, arguing it would worsen a recession in its fourth year and unemployment, already at around 19 percent.

Also Monday, left wing opposition parties are planning two separate protest rallies in central Athens at 6:00 p.m. (1600GMT), against the proposed cuts.