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Creditor talks in Athens after resignations blow

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Greece's finance minister held new talks Sunday with the country's international creditors, hours after the Greek reform team was hit by the resignation of two top officials.

"We did not conclude something today," a finance ministry source told reporters after the meeting.

Nevertheless "the talks are continuing in a very good atmosphere," the official said.

"We want, as do they, to speed up the talks over the next two days and to start closing chapters," the official added.

The talks -- mainly focused on job cuts -- will determine whether Athens will claim a loan slice of 2.8 billion euros ($3.6 billion) due at the end of March.

As the meeting ended, around a thousand protesters gathered on central Syntagma Square opposite the finance ministry to protest against austerity deemed to be choking the life out of the recession-hit Greek economy.

Several thousand active and retired military officers had likewise protested on Saturday over sweeping pension cuts.

Thorny issues that Greece still needs to address to obtain its next bailout funds include shrinking the number of jobs in the public sector, speeding up privatisation plans and recapitalising four of its main banks.

On Saturday, Greece's privatisation chief and the finance ministry general secretary both stepped down over an investigation into alleged breach of duty at the country's main power group PPC where both were previously members of the board.

The blow came as the troubled Greek privatisation drive was beginning to hit a stride after years of delays.

In January, the privatisation agency completed Greece's first public land international deal in 15 years with a 99-year lease of a plot on the popular tourist island of Corfu for 23 million euros ($30 million).

A month later, Greece managed to lure back Qatar's investment authority in a public tender for its top asset, the former Athens airport of Hellinikon.

In an interview with financial weekly Axia on Saturday, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had forecast a solid privatisation drive for 2013.

"We will meet this year's target of around 2.6 billion euros. We might even exceed it," the PM said.

He added that the government was expecting binding offers for gas operator DEPA and gaming monopoly OPAP before summer and would also divest state oil refiner HELPE within the year.

A replacement to head the privatisation agency is to be nominated to parliament on Monday.

Under the bailout conditions adopted last year, Greece needs to cut public sector workers by 25,000 in 2013 and a total of 150,000 by the end of 2015.

Facing a sixth consecutive year of recession, the heavily-indebted country has been relying on international rescue packages to avoid bankruptcy.

A return to growth initially foreseen for 2012 is now not expected before 2014.

Since 2010, the EU and the IMF have committed 240 billion euros ($314 billion) overall in rescue loans to Greece.

The prime minister on Saturday also promised his recession-weary nation that there would be no more tightening of the belt beyond that already agreed with creditors.

"There will be no more austerity measures," Samaras said in a televised speech to his conservative party's political committee.

"And as soon as growth sets in, relief measures will slowly begin," Samaras said.

But he noted that Greece's ailing economy was "out of intensive care, not out of the hospital".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130310/creditor-talks-athens-after-resignations-blow-0