IMF asks Greece to cut wages

GREECE and the IMF say negotiations for landmark debt deals will be concluded in a “matter of days”, raising hopes that the country will dodge a disastrous default.

Greece is in talks with private creditors to have them take losses on their bondholdings and with its international bailout rescuers to receive new loans.

“In the coming days, the agreements must be completed,” government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said on Wednesday.

Debt inspectors from the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), known as the troika, are in Athens for talks on a second 130 billion euros ($A160.88 billion) bailout package.

That deal is tied to an agreement with private creditors to accept losses on Greek bonds, which will cut 100 billion euros off the country’s national debt.

Chief IMF inspector Poul Thomsen also said a deal was close, but pressed the recession-plagued country to lower employment costs and even slash the minimum wage to make the economy more competitive.

“It’s a matter of days,” Mr Thomsen was quoted as saying by the Athens daily Kathimerini. “The discussions for the (new) program will be concluded very soon.”

Mr Thomsen insisted wages in Greece remain too high and urged the Government to consider cutting the minimum wage of 750 euros gross pay per month.

Greek unions and employers are to resume negotiations tonight in an effort to cut labour costs, but both sides are already in agreement that the minimum wage and basic private sector pay should not be affected, arguing such a move would only deepen the recession.

The EU statistics agency Eurostat yesterday revealed that unemployment in December in Greece rose to 19.2 per cent, the second highest rate in the eurozone after Spain, which stood at 22.9 per cent.

Greece and its creditors are anxious to close the new rescue deals ahead of a March 20 Greek bond repayment worth 14.5 billion euros that the country cannot afford. A default would spell disaster for the country and destabilise European and global markets.

Formed in November, the coalition government is backed by the majority Socialist party, rival conservatives and the small right-wing LAOS party.

Kapsis said Prime Minister Lucas Papademos would summon the leaders of those parties to a meeting to agree on the new deals and required austerity measures.

LAOS leader George Karatzaferis sent a letter on Wednesday to the top EU officials, calling on the European parliament to take a position on Greece’s debt agreements and describing the current debt inspection arrangements an “economic dictatorship.”

In the letter, Mr Karatzaferis wrote: “Reform cannot happen at gunpoint, especially when it requires the participation of the complex structure of an entire society.”

Olympic flame to arrive in UK on 18 May after tour of Greece

London 2012 organisers have confirmed details of the arrival of the Olympic flame in the UK. It will be lit by the sun’s rays in Olympia before starting an eight‑day tour around Greece and arriving in Cornwall on 18 May. An hour-long lighting ceremony amid the historic ruins of the home of the ancient Games at the Temple of Hera in Olympia will signal the start of the relay around Greece. The flame is due to arrive on 17 May at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where a London 2012 representative will be ready for the official handover. London 2012’s chairman, Lord Coe, said: “It gives me great pleasure to confirm 10 May as the flame lighting date and Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose as the Olympic Flame’s arrival point into the UK. My team is looking forward to working with the Hellenic Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Defence and our commercial partners to create exciting events to mark the flame’s Greek provenance and its arrival to our shores.”

It will travel to the UK on board a British Airways flight from Athens, ahead of the 70-day UK relay beginning in Land’s End on 19 May.

The Greek leg of the torch relay is set to showcase the beauty and history of the Greek mainland and islands to the world, according to London 2012.

The second torchbearer on the first day and the penultimate torchbearer on the last day of the Greek leg have been handpicked by London 2012, who are attempting to keep their identities under wraps. As the Olympic flame is classified as symbolic it is allowed to be carried on board an aircraft subject to special authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority. It will travel in a ceremonial lantern that is secured in a specially designed cradle.

The flame will arrive in the UK at RNAS Culdrose, near Helston in Cornwall in the early evening of 18 May. An estimated 1,000 guests, media and members of the local community are expected to be present. Coe has said that he expects the arrival of the torch to spark an upsurge in enthusiasm for the Games among the British public, but the relay is also expected to be a magnet for protesters.

“I am delighted that Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose will be the first to welcome the Olympic Flame into the UK,” said the defence secretary, Philip Hammond. “It is a fantastic opportunity for the Armed Forces to be involved in such a unique event, and one they can take pride in for years to come.”

A total of 8,000 runners – including 7,200 members of the public – will run an average of 300 metres each with the torch, which will travel through a range of picturesque locations designed to showcase the UK and via a series of unusual methods of transport.