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Greek socialist leader warns of deeper recession
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece needs more time to implement austerity cuts because its recession this year will be deeper than forecast, a Greek coalition leader told its lenders on Saturday, stepping up the country's efforts to win concessions on a bailout package.
Faced with growing anger from cash-strapped voters, Greece's conservative-led government has been aggressively pushing for changes to the policies in a deeply unpopular 130 billion euro ($162.6 billion) bailout deal struck earlier this year.
Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos pressed the government's case at a meeting with top officials from the so-called troika of European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank lenders in Athens to review Greece's faltering progress on its pledges.
"Mr. Venizelos insisted on the need to agree on a new, updated medium-term fiscal strategy programme," a statement from his office said on Saturday.
"He raised the issue of revising the bailout in line with the procedures foreseen in it and extending the time period of the fiscal adjustment to three years."
Venizelos, whose PASOK party is one of three in Greece's coalition government, negotiated the bailout when he was finance minister in an earlier government, but has since called for three more years to implement cuts included in the rescue plan.
With Greece's economy set to contract by more than 5 percent in 2012, its fifth straight year of recession, and with almost one in four Greeks jobless, the government says the austerity plan has become intolerable.
Athens, due to run out of cash in weeks without further support from its lenders, has fallen behind agreed targets partly due to a two-month political limbo of repeat elections.
Euro zone officials have warned the country will get no further cash until they are convinced Athens is back on track with its rescue programme that calls for reforms including slimming down its bloated public sector.
Inspectors from the troika began a short initial visit this week to meet ministers in the new government, and are due to return later this month for discussions on Greece's progress in meeting its targets.
On Friday, in his first policy speech since taking office, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said his aim was not to demand a change of the goals set in the bailout deal, but in the austerity policies imposed to meet them.
That won a sharp rebuke from the emboldened radical leftist Syriza party that came second in the June 17 vote. It accused the government of backtracking on its pre-election promise to overhaul the entire bailout programme.
"The renegotiation of the bailout ended on Sunday, June 17," its charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras told parliament during a debate ahead of a confidence vote on Sunday.
"You talked of a programme that has missed its targets. Doesn't the derailment of the bailout plan prove its failure?"
A Metron Analysis opinion poll published by weekly newspaper Ependytis on Saturday showed Greeks are equally split on whether the country should stick to the agreed bailout terms or ditch them.
The poll showed 48 percent were in favour of sticking with the bailout and efforts to improve it, while another 48 percent felt it should be renounced for having failed.
(Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Pravin Char)
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