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Greece to hold new weekend talks with bondholders
Representatives of Greece's private creditors to hold new talks in Athens over weekend
By The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) ' Top bank negotiators are due back in Athens at the weekend to try and complete a debt-relief deal crucial for Greece to avoid default next month.

The Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based bank association, said Friday that its senior official Charles Dallara would resume talks with the government for the proposed deal to slash Greece's national debt by euro100 billion ($131.6 billion).

IIF spokesman Frank Vogl said Jean Lemierre, senior adviser to the chairman of the French bank BNP Paribas, will be accompanying Dallara.

Under the deal, private investors would take real losses of more than 70 percent on their Greek bonds. They would swap their bonds with new ones worth half as much, with a longer repayment period and lower interest rates.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

ATHENS, Greece (AP) ' Greek unions and employers' associations on Friday rejected private-sector wage cuts, as demanded by the country's international bailout lenders if Athens is to receive a new rescue package and avoid bankruptcy.

The impasse appeared to be holding up final negotiations for massive new debt agreements ' a eurozone finance ministers' meeting, which had been expected for Monday to back the new proposals, was postponed to later in the week.

In a letter to the government Friday, unions and employers said they rejected proposals to slash the minimum wage and further cut annual salaries. Private sector workers have already suffered a 14 percent loss in income due to emergency taxes imposed since the beginning of 2010, the letter said.

Wage costs have emerged as a major sticking point in negotiations between the government and rescue creditors from Greece's partners in the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund for a new bailout worth at least euro130 billion ($170 billion) in loans.

The creditors argue that cutting labor costs is essential to making the Greek economy more competitive. However, both the unions and employers' associations counter that the move will only further depress consumer spending and therefore tax revenue.

The government must conclude negotiations on its second rescue package "that will ensure debt sustainability of the country in the long run, and that will bring remedies to a number of serious problems that the Greek economy has had even before this crisis," said Amadeu Altafaj Tardio, spokesman for the EU's Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn.

"And one of the main problems of the Greek economy as we have said time and again here is the chronic loss of competitiveness over the past decade. ... Therefore all the elements, including elements linked to the labor market, wage formation, are part of these discussions."

Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees De Jager said he and his colleagues from the other three AAA-rated eurozone countries ' Germany, Luxembourg and Finland ' "are not satisfied with Greece's progress."

"We want a serious commitment from the Greek government and the opposition. They need to show concrete action as soon as possible," De Jager wrote on his blog after a meeting of finance ministers from the four triple-A countries in Berlin.

"The IMF rightly is demanding a reduction in the minimum wage and a major reduction in the number of civil servants," he said. "We will not agree to the second loan package until Greece has shown it is seriously working at this."

Without the new bailout deal, and a related bond swap that seeks to cut the country's privately held debt, Greece would go bankrupt in late March, when it faces a euro14.5 billion bond redemption it cannot afford.

Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said the bond swap deal, known as the Private Sector Involvement, or PSI, and the parallel negotiations with the eurozone, European Central Bank and IMF debt inspectors for the second bailout were almost complete.

"The PSI, I think, in its basic elements is ready," he told Real FM radio, adding that talks with the debt inspectors known as the troika were "in the final stage."

"Within the day, we will have to finalize a series of alternative proposals which will be put before the political (party) leaders so we can take the final decisions," he said.

Greece has been surviving since May 2010 on rescue loans from a euro110 billion bailout package from other eurozone countries and the IMF. In return, it has pushed through tough austerity measures, including public sector salary and pension cuts and repeated rounds of tax hikes. Despite the measures, however, the country has failed to meet the targets set out in its bailout agreement, and now needs a combination of the bond deal and a second bailout to prevent a default that could roil the euro currency.

Athens has said the writedown deal would see private investors take real losses of more than 70 percent through a 50 per cent cut in the face value of the bonds, along with lower interest rates and a longer repayment period than originally planned. It has also called for the ECB and national central banks to take part in the debt relief agreement, and indicated it was seeking a lower interest rate for the first bailout.

A meeting between Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and the heads of the three parties in his interim coalition government was expected to be moved from Friday to Saturday, according to government officials.

Asked whether there was any alternative plan, Kapsis said "there will necessarily be a Plan B" ' but that he did not want to discuss what it might be.

"Clearly, if we don't close the deal and we let go and say 'we will default on our own," we would be heading to an open bankruptcy. But I don't think anyone supports that."

Speaking from Brussels, Tardio said that while negotiations were "extremely complex," he believed an agreement was within reach "in the days to come."

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos continued meetings in Athens Friday with debt inspectors to try and hammer out a deal.

In parliament, he warned that while the situation was difficult now, the alternative the country faced was catastrophic.

"Yes, the people have become poorer," he said. "Yes, we are living a drama. Yes, our standard of living has gone down. Yes, it is dramatic to be obliged to cut wages and pensions. But what we could live through, and we are trying to avoid, is indescribable."


Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.

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