World Bulletin / News Desk
Greece acknowledged on Monday it was having trouble persuading its foreign lenders to accept a plan to save nearly 12 billion euros over the next two years, essential to unlocking the aid payments the country needs in order to avoid bankruptcy.
Hopes that Greece, now in its fifth straight year of recession, might get a quick green light on the package were dashed when inspectors rejected part of it after bilateral talks resumed on Sunday.
There appeared to be little progress at a second round of talks on Monday between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the 'troika' of inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
"It is a difficult discussion," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters after the meeting. "We are trying to convince them on the soundness of our positions."
Troika officials rejected some of the proposed measures to cut public sector expenses and wanted a bolder plan to reduce the number of civil servants, a senior Greek official said.
"They insist on rejecting the measures that concern the restructuring of the state," the official said. "We insist that they accept them."
Slashing public sector jobs is a highly sensitive subject in Greece, where the constitution bars firing civil servants.
Athens' proposed austerity package includes a controversial plan for a "labour reserve" in which civil servants get reduced pay before being laid off, but the scheme only targets savings of 167 million euros over 2013 and 2014, a draft of the plan obtained by Reuters late last month showed.
'CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE'
Samaras will struggle to toughen the austerity package any further without running into stiff opposition from the junior partners in his fragile three-party coalition, which has squabbled for weeks over the proposed cuts.
The allies - who are under pressure from their voter base to water down the package - have already warned troika officials against pushing austerity too far, saying that low-income pensioners and civil servants must be spared.
"Our European partners must realise that the Greek people can't take it any more," moderate leftist leader Fotis Kouvelis told reporters after meeting Samaras on Sunday.
Hopes that Germany - the biggest contributor to European bailout as well as one of Greece's harshest critics - might be prepared to cut Samaras some slack were kindled on Saturday by a media report.
German magazine Der Spiegel said Chancellor Angela Merkel had reached the view that Greece must not be allowed to leave the euro zone in the autumn and was prepared to allow Athens' bailout payments to be front-loaded.
In the latest illustration of the depth of the country's economic woes, industrial output dropped 5 percent year-on-year in July with manufacturing slumping 7.8 percent as existing austerity measures stifled domestic demand.
At home, Samaras is also under pressure from his other ally, Socialist PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos, to stick to a pre-election pledge to obtain two more years' grace from the troika to implement the cuts slated for 2013 and 2014.
But mindful of the lenders' exasperation with Greece's history of broken promises and the risk of bankruptcy without fresh aid, Samaras has pledged to first deliver on commitments in the bailout before seeking any concessions.
Both Venizelos and Kouvelis have yet to sign off on the austerity package despite weeks of discussion.
Greece's economy is expected to contract by about a fifth in the 2008-2012 period, partly due to repeated rounds of austerity, making it the country's worst postwar recession. Unemployment has soared to a record high, with almost one in four out of work.
Angry pensioners, policemen, judges and civil servants - expected to be particularly hurt by the latest cuts - are readying strikes and demonstrations to signal their opposition.
Greece's union federation for public sector employees, ADEDY, says it is planning a general strike along with its private sector counterpart GSSE to protest the new measures.
In the first major protest against the cuts, about 15,000 trade unionists and leftists marched on Saturday at an annual fair in Greece's second biggest city Thessaloniki.
They were among nine organisations and three people added to the EU's Syria sanctions list, published in the bloc's Official Journal
Land reform remains a sensitive issue in South Africa, where 20 years after the end of apartheid the white minority still holds around 87 percent of commercial farm land.
Talks are reportedly underway for a number of investment projects, including in pharmaceuticals and automotive assembly, but no final investment agreements are expected this week.
The yuan will be the world's third largest currency after the U.S. dollar and euro, a Chinese report predicts.
Unemployment currently stands at 12.7 percent in Kenya and affects 30 percent of the country's population
GM so far this year has recalled about 14.7 million vehicles worldwide with switch-related issues and has linked at least 16 deaths to those issues.
The deal includes hydropower and nuclear power plants in the South American country.
State-run think tank Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) reported earlier this month that a twin-engine version of the fighter jet is expected to cost around 8.5 trillion won
Western officials have repeatedly warned Iranian counterparts over the past six months that more economic pain is a risk for an OPEC member whose oil exports have already shrunk to a fraction of what they could have been
The EU's employment commissioner said he has asked to meet with Microsoft to discuss the social impact of the layoffs.
Although China has promised to invest in Brazil for years and failed to deliver, the pace of deals is picking up with a focus on deficient infrastructure.
The financial aid would be used for rebuilding houses and public buildings, the rapid restoration of water and energy supplies and urgent assistance for those still without proper shelter.
Washington and Brussels say Moscow has been fanning separatist violence in eastern Ukraine and broadened their sanctions, sending Russian shares and the rouble currency down.
Chinese Trade Minister Gao Hucheng said his country would not sit idly by while the United States harmed the rights of Chinese companies.
Beijing claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, whose estimated energy potential varies widely. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the key waterway.
Trade between China and Brazil soared to $83.3 billion last year from $3.2 billion in 2002, with iron ore, soy and oil making up the bulk of Brazilian exports.