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Greece looks to debt relief in EU-IMF talks

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(ATHENS) - A delegation of senior Greek ministers heads into meetings in Paris with EU-IMF creditors on Tuesday hoping to win a direly-needed new round of debt relief to propel economic recovery.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government expects creditors -- the so-called troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- to reward Greece's recent reform achievements with a concrete pledge to reduce payments on its massive debt.

Despite a major reduction in 2012, Europe's statistics agency Eurostat estimates the country's debt in 2013 exceeded 318 billion euros ($420 billion), or 175.1 percent of economic output, up from 304 billion, or 157.2 percent, a year earlier.

Much of the debt is held by European institutions, and Greece says alleviation could come through lower interest rates or longer maturities.

In Paris, Greece's ministers of finance, development, labour, justice and administrative reform will attend what is being billed as preparatory talks ahead of a formal review of the country's loans.

Excruciating reforms carried out by Samaras' conservative government seem to be paying off, at least according to macroeconomic indicators, for Greece.

Last year it registered a primary surplus, and in April made its first medium-term bond sale since the start of the Greek crisis in 2010.

Greece also expects to exit a painful six-year recession this year with economic confidence improving after four years of austerity reforms.

Samaras hopes the troika review, which runs through Thursday, will approve a number of tax breaks, as his government is suffering in opinion polls and early elections are likely to be held when President Carolos Papoulias' term ends in February.

In turn, his ministers are expected to be quizzed by auditors on the slow pace of state privatisation, and a contested layoff plan affecting 6,500 public sector jobs by the end of the year.

Fearing protests at home, Athens had requested that the troika talks be held on foreign soil, arguing that that the negotiations -- which drag on for months -- damage economic sentiment in the country.

Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis argued in an Friday interview that the country's reforms could be better managed with the troika "in the background".

"I think it will be done in a more efficient way in the future, precisely because the troika is not right on our neck," he told the New York Times. "They'll be staying in the background."

He added that another bond issue, the third this year, would take place in coming weeks.

Since 2010 Athens has been granted more than 240 billion euros in credit by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

That came in exchange for strict reforms which, however, have curbed consumer spending and driven unemployment to one of the highest levels in Europe.

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