Greece in drive to win over lenders


Greece's new leaders announced a trans-Atlantic roadshow today to try to persuade sceptical lenders to give them more time to repay the country's massive debt, as hopes faded for any real progress on the issue at this week's European summit.

Medical problems will prevent prime minister Antonis Samaras and incoming finance minister Vassilis Rapanos attending the summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The problems also forced the postponement today of the first meeting between the new government and Greece's troika of international lenders.

Mr Samaras's government, an unlikely alliance of right and left that emerged from a June 17th election, has promised angry Greeks it will soften the punishing terms of a bailout saving them from bankruptcy in exchange for deep economic pain.

Germany has already rejected major concessions. Berlin signalled today that Europe would wait for the troika's report on Greece before taking any decisions on how to adjust the bailout package to compensate for weeks of political paralysis and a deeper than expected recession. A new date for the troika visit has not been set.

Mr Samaras (61), emerged from hospital on Monday with a bandage over one eye, two days after undergoing surgery to repair a damaged retina. He was under orders not to fly or make the long road trip to Brussels, doctors said.

Mr Rapanos, a mild-mannered banker reported by Greek media to have a history of ill-health, will be discharged tomorrow after being rushed to hospital on Friday, before he could be sworn in, complaining of abdominal pain, nausea and dizziness.

The 64-year-old underwent a gastroscopy and colonoscopy, an official at the Hygeia Hospital. The tests, "showed everything is completely normal", the official said.

Speaking to Mega TV, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said Mr Rapanos had told Mr Samaras on Friday, after being offered the job, that he had a "chronic situation" that he had learned to live with and that it would not effect his ability to do the demanding and stressful job.

The government said Mr Samaras and the leaders of his two coalition allies would take their case for renegotiating the bailout conditions to Europe and the United States as soon as the prime minister was well enough.

"We discussed with Mr Samaras that it would be meaningful, irrespective of the one-to-one discussions we have with our counterparts or with other crucial people, to also organise a common appearance at the decision-making centres," said Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Socialist Pasok party.

"These are Brussels, Frankfurt, but also Washington because of the International Monetary Fund, and of course the capitals of the big European countries which take part in discussions on the euro zone's future," he told reporters.

At the two-day EU summit starting on Thursday, Greece will be represented by foreign minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and outgoing finance minister George Zanias in a delegation headed by Greek president Karolos Papoulias.