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Greece’s Tsipras eyes ‘breakthrough without blackmail’ in debt row

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called Thursday for a “breakthrough without blackmail” in a row over the eurozone’s decision to suspend debt relief over a pension spending hike by Athens.

“For the Greek issue, I believe that now it’s time to have a breakthrough. I will have a chance to discuss with a lot of my colleagues,” Tsipras said as he arrived for an EU summit in Brussels.

“I believe that we can have a breakthrough without blackmail and with respect of the sovereignty of each country.”

The eurozone announced the surprise decision on Wednesday, in response to leftist premier Tsipras mooting plans to implement a one-off payout to 1.6 million low-income pensioners, along with a sales tax break for islands sheltering thousands of migrants.

Debt relief measures were agreed by eurozone ministers on December 5 in the face of criticism by the International Monetary Fund that they fell well short of what was necessary to get Greece back on its feet.

French President Francois Hollande warned on Thursday that Greece should be treated with “dignity”.

“I want Greece to be treated with dignity and to stay in the eurozone,” Hollande said as he arrived at the summit.

“There cannot be any question of asking extra efforts from Greece or of stopping it from taking a certain number of sovereign decisions.”

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said earlier Thursday that Paris opposes the decision to suspend the debt relief measures.

Sapin suggested the decision had not been taken unanimously by the 19-member eurozone, with austerity champion Germany known to have pushed for suspending further aid to the debt-wracked country.

“Individual statements are not the collective statements of the eurogroup,” Sapin told reporters, putting France at odds with the decision announced on Wednesday morning.

The Greek parliament is set to vote on the payments on Thursday evening which would affect retirees who have a pension of less than 850 euros a month at a total cost of 617 million euros ($646 million).

The payments could violate the terms of Greece’s third bailout, agreed in July 2015 after six months of bitter talks that nearly saw Athens crash out of the euro.

Under the bailout agreed with eurozone countries, Greece has committed to making a host of economic reforms and must submit to oversight of its budgets and spending plans.

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