World Bulletin / News Desk
Greek political leaders are still haggling over the details of 12 billion euros worth of budget cuts needed to release further tranches of its international bailout, government officials said on Thursday.
Officials, declining to be named, had told Reuters on Wednesday that the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his finance minister had agreed the list of measures to be put to coalition party leaders and the European Union and IMF.
"There is a basic agreement (between party leaders), we're moving forward to the final negotiations," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters after a meeting of the three leaders in Samaras' consevative-led government.
One of the three leaders, Fotis Kouvelis warned that sticking points remained.
"There was agreement on the basic framework. There are outstanding issues," said Kouvelis, head of the moderate Democratic Left party.
Neither Stournaras nor Kouvelis specified what issues the party chiefs had made progress on and whether the deal on a "basic framework" went beyond a similar broad agreement they said they had notched up a month ago.
The coalition has been haggling for weeks over the package demanded by international lenders keeping the country afloat, with Samaras's allies sharply opposed to across-the-board cuts in wages and pensions as well as plans to fire civil servants.
Pressure is growing on the party chiefs to strike a deal of some sort before the troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund return to Athens early next week.
The troika's blessing of the package is a pre-requisite for Greece to secure its next round of bailout cash, without which the country faces certain bankruptcy and a potentially disastrous euro zone exit.
Kouvelis and Samaras's other ally, Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos, are under rising pressure from their voter base to fight the austerity package, which includes a new round of wage, pension and welfare benefit cuts.
On Wednesday, nearly 70,000 Greeks marched to parliament chanting "We won't submit to the troika (of lenders)" and "EU, IMF Out!" as part of a general strike against the cuts.
Since Britain voted last June to exit the European Union, the country's finance, car and airline sectors have been lobbying the loudest for continued access to the European single market.
France remained Germany's second largest trading partner while the US slipped from first to third place, as bilateral trade contracted by five percent to 165 billion euros.
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