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IMF chief riles Greeks as crisis election looms

Agence France-Presse

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IMF chief Christine Lagarde was accused of trying to "humiliate" the crisis-hit country by saying Greeks dodge taxes

ATHENS, Greece – A Socialist party leader accused IMF chief Christine Lagarde of trying to “humiliate” the crisis-hit country by saying Greeks dodge taxes as he campaigned Sunday, May 27, for crucial June elections.

“Nobody can humiliate the Greek people during the crisis, and I say this today addressing specifically Ms. Lagarde… who with her stance insulted the Greek people,” Evangelos Venizelos told an election rally.

Lagarde told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in an interview published Friday that Greeks must “help themselves collectively” by all paying their taxes, saying she was more concerned about sub-Saharan Africans in poverty than Greeks hit by the economic crisis.

Her comments came as Venizelos’s Pasok and other Greek parties squared off for a June 17 election that could determine whether it continues to receive IMF funds and stays in the eurozone.

Lagarde’s remarks drew thousands of comments on her Facebook page, many from annoyed Greeks.

On Saturday the IMF chief responded: “I am very sympathetic to the Greek people and the challenges they are facing. That’s why the IMF is supporting Greece in its endeavour to overcome the current crisis.”

“An important part of this effort is that everyone should carry their fair share of the burden, especially the most privileged and especially in terms of paying their taxes.”

Venizelos told a news conference on Sunday, the morning after his campaign rally: “Ms. Lagarde had to revise her comments. I am glad she did it because that means she takes into account a proud nation.”

Greece made a deal in 2010 to receive hundreds of billions of euros (dollars) from the IMF and the EFSF, a European Union bailout fund, to rescue it from financial collapse.

The country will head to the polls for a second time in six weeks on June 17 since political parties failed to form a coalition after an inconclusive election on May 6.

In that election, voters fed up with salary and pension cuts demanded by the bailout terms handed second place to radical left-wing party Syriza, which has threatened to renege on the bailout accords.

Former prime minister Lucas Papademos warned on May 11 that Greece may run out of money by the end of June if international bailout funds are cut off following the election, To Vima newspaper reported Sunday.

That could lead Greece to default on its debt and leave the eurozone.

“From late June onwards, the ability of the government to fund its obligations fully depends on the approval of the subsequent instalments of loans from the EFSF and the IMF,” To Vima quoted Papademos as saying in a leaked memo.

“The available funds in the Greek government will be reduced gradually from about 3.8 billion euros on May 11 to about 700 million euros on June 18 and from June 20 will enter negative territory at the level of around one billion euros.”

Ahead of the June 17 election, Syriza has led at times in the opinion polls, but a series of polls published Sunday indicated conservative party New Democracy had taken the lead.

Campaigning on Saturday, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said a victory for Syriza would cause “catastrophe” and drag Greece out of the euro.

The new surveys by five separate polling groups forecast a New Democracy victory ranging between 23.3% and 25.8%, a result that would still require the party to join up with allies to form a viable government.

Syriza polled in second place ahead of Pasok, which like New Democracy defends the bailout agreement while proposing to amend it.

Venizelos said he wants to extend the loan repayments.

“The country needs a government that will unite the people and revise the loan agreement, but assure we stay in the euro,” he said Sunday.

One survey by pollster Marc, carried out on 1,075 households on May 22-24, showed that 82.4% of Greeks wished to stay in the eurozone. – Agence France-Presse

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