Greek leader defiant ahead of bailout meeting

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted Wednesday his government will honor an election promise to end budget austerity — a note of defiance ahead of an expected meeting with the leaders of Germany and France on the country's troubled bailout.

Tsipras spoke in parliament before lawmakers were to vote on an anti-poverty bill, the first piece of legislation from the left-wing government elected on Jan. 25.

Tsipras is expected to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on the sidelines of an European Union leaders' meeting Thursday.

Greece is struggling to keep up with a punishing spring debt repayment schedule, but has so far failed to convince rescue lenders to release remaining bailout funds. The creditors want to first approve a detailed list of reforms.

"Let them keep their threats for where they work, not for this government and, more importantly, not for this people," he said at the end of a 30-minute speech to applause from his party's members.

The anti-poverty bill — submitted despite objections from lenders — would provide assistance worth some 200 million euros ($212.7 million) to mostly jobless households considered to be in "extreme poverty."

"What can one say to those who would leave thousands to freeze in their homes without power?" Tsipras said.

Greece's talks with the rescue creditors are proceeding slowly amid a clash over how much budget austerity Athens should accept in exchange for more loans.

Although there has been no formal response to Tsipras' request for the emergency meeting with Merkel and Hollande, government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis indicated that it would go ahead.

"We are going to these five-party talks with the aim of reaching an agreement," he told private Skai television.

"We are not behaving like small children ... But we cannot tighten the belt any further on a population that has nothing left to give."