Greek bailout program review hits snag

Greece: Debt inspectors delay meeting with PM after talks stall on tax arrears, state jobs

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Inspectors from Greece's rescue lenders delayed a meeting with the prime minister which had been scheduled for Tuesday after talks stalled over tax collection difficulties and promised reductions in public sector staff.

The talks between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the inspectors from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — known as the Troika — were postponed by one day until Wednesday, following hours of negotiations involving members of his Cabinet.

"We are working to finalize as many issues as we can ... I don't think we'll get to all of them," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said.

Officials in the conservative-led government had aimed at resolving differences with the Troika ahead of a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Greece is due to receive its next bailout loan installment of €2.8 billion ($3.65 billion) later this month, but Finance Ministry officials say deficit-reduction talks have been held up by creditors' demands for faster implementation of programs for public sector staff cuts and tax arrears payments.

The country has been surviving on rescue loans for nearly three years and is struggling to collect additional taxes levied on the recession-hit population as part of austerity measures imposed in return for the bailout money.

Debt inspectors are also pressing Greece to speed up its privatization program.

Prime Minister Samaras met Tuesday with Alexei Miller, chief executive of Russia's state-run natural gas giant Gazprom, one of the companies short listed in the planned privatization of Greece's Public Gas Corporation, or DEPA.

Other contenders include Azerbaijan's state energy company Socar and Russia's private Sintex.

Meanwhile, around 3,000 protesters marched in central Athens against plans to develop a gold mine on the Halkidiki peninsula, a popular holiday destination in northern Greece. The protesters chanted "we want forests, not a golden tomb," and marched to parliament in the peaceful demonstration.

Eldorado Gold Corp., based in Vancouver, Canada, has been granted the rights to the gold mine and plans to begin digging soon.

The country's main opposition party, the left-wing Syriza, has sided with the protesters.

"We do not oppose growth, but we are opposed to these pirate investments that seek to loot the environment of natural resources," Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said.

"The politicians who bankrupted this country ... are working with those who want to plunder its great mineral wealth and leave an environmental wasteland behind."