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Greece PM seeks changes to EU-IMF bailout terms: letter

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(BRUSSELS) - Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has asked EU partners for "necessary modifications" to the conditions of a second EU-IMF bailout in a letter sent to EU partners ahead of a summit Thursday.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, Samaras said the new Greek government "is absolutely determined to fulfill its obligations emanating from the recent bail-out agreement."

"I will speed up implementation of the programme with special emphasis on the privatisation agenda," wrote Samaras, who was unable to attend the two-day summit due to an eye operation, but was replaced by President Carolos Papoulias.

Papoulias, who flew economy class to the Brussels talks, was reported by the Greek press earlier to have delivered a copy of the letter to EU President Herman Van Rompuy.

The letter was also sent to Greece's EU partners, according to copies sent to Paris and to Rome seen by AFP.

But the newly-elected conservative premier also called for Greece's latest rescue package, which provides Athens with an additional 130 billion euros ($163 billion), to be revised to take into account a greater-than-expected recession.

"Of course there is a question of some necessary modifications to the programme in order to control unprecedented unemployment and halt the devastating recession Greece is going through for the fifth consecutive year," he wrote.

But he added in the six-paragraph letter: "This would also ensure that all targets are met."

Greece has pledged in return for the rescue to overhaul the economy, slash the deficit and control a runaway debt of over 350 billion euros.

Samaras heads a three-party coalition put in place after June 17 elections with the aim of renegotiating Greece's bailout by placing more emphasis on growth to overcome a five-year recession.

The conservatives, socialists and moderate leftists in the coalition want to bargain for a two-year extension to 2016 for Greece to meet fiscal targets under a memorandum signed with the so-called 'troika' of creditors -- the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank.

The government has said it also wants to freeze some reforms, such as minimum wage cuts and more flexible rules for companies wanting to shed staff, which it sees as exacerbating poverty and a jobless rate already at more than 20 percent.

But Athens is unlikely to secure any extra breathing space from Brussels until the completion of an audit by the so-called troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank on the country's finances.

The inspection, last held in February, was delayed by a week after Samaras' surgery. Greece's designated finance minister also fell ill last week and had to be replaced.

A spokesman for Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said earlier Thursday that the auditors would return to Athens "early next week."

In Washington, the International Monetary Fund said earlier on Thursday it is willing to listen to Greece's new government.

An IMF fact-finding mission to Greece was expected "early next week" to assess conditions in the troubled economy, said IMF spokesman Gerry Rice.

"We want to listen to the new government, to the new authorities and what they have to say," Rice said.

"The objectives of the programme as agreed remain the basis for those discussions," he said at a regularly scheduled news briefing.

"But, as we've said before, if the new government has ideas on how those programme objectives can be achieved, then we're open to those discussions as we are indeed in any of our programmes that we support."

The assessment mission will be followed by a negotiating mission, Rice said, adding that he had no date for IMF negotiators to return to Greece.

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