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Greece crisis: Syriza's Alexis Tsipras arrives in Brussels for last-ditch debt talks, says it's time for a 'viable solution'

By David Hughes

Published 22/06/2015

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras laughs as he welcomed by the European Commission president ahead of an emergency summit with the leaders of Athens' creditors at the European Commission in Brussels, on June 22, 2015.
Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras laughs as he welcomed by the European Commission president ahead of an emergency summit with the leaders of Athens' creditors at the European Commission in Brussels, on June 22, 2015.
Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) speaks to the press as he is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of an emergency summit with the leaders of Athens' creditors at the European Commission in Brussels, on June 22, 2015.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has said there must be a "viable" solution to his country's debt crisis as he arrived for last-ditch talks to prevent it crashing out of the euro.

The radical left-wing Syriza government has drawn up new proposals for tackling its vast debts in an attempt to persuade its creditors to extend access to vital bailout funds.

Arriving in Brussels ahead of a crunch meeting of leaders from the 19 eurozone countries, Mr Tsipras said Greece needed a solution which would allow it to return to economic growth.

"This is time for a substantial, viable solution that allows Greece to come back to growth within the eurozone with social justice," he said.

Standing alongside him, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said there had been progress in recent days but added: "We are not there yet".

Greece has to reach a deal with its creditors before a June 30 deadline to repay a 1.6 billion euro (£1.1 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Syriza is presenting its proposals to the heads of the three creditors - the IMF, European Union and European Central Bank (ECB) - ahead of the main eurozone summit.

The head of Mr Juncker's cabinet, Martin Selmayr, said that the latest offer from Athens represented a "good basis for progress".

But in a sign that the process could be complicated, he described it as "eine Zangengeburt" - German for a forceps delivery.

Although the UK is not in the single currency zone, Whitehall has drawn up contingency plans for a possible Greek exit - "Grexit" - from the eurozone.

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Markets surge ahead of Greece talks  

Advice for those travelling to Greece: Should holidaymakers be anxious?  

Chancellor George Osborne said last week: "We hope for the best but we now must be prepared for the worst."

Amid signs that Greeks were withdrawing increased sums from the country's banks, the ECB has provided emergency assistance to prevent the country's cash machines running dry.

But British tourists heading to the country have been advised to take euros with them.

Abta, the body which represents travel agents and tour operators, said: "Holidaymakers heading out to Greece this summer are advised to take some cash in euros with them as well as other payment methods (credit/debit cards) so that they are covered for all situations.

"We would also advise them, as we would with any destination, to take out travel insurance as soon as they book their holiday to provide protection should they need to cancel.

"We do not anticipate that there will be any need for tour operators to rebook their customers to a different destination.

"At present we have no indication that holidaymakers will be disrupted; however, as with all destination matters, we will continue to monitor the situation and work with our members on any developments.

"This is an unusual situation but the industry is experienced in handling unusual situations."

Greek holidaymakers told to take Euro cash

As hopes rose of a breakthrough in the Greek crisis, UK travellers were advised that their trips to the troubled European country were almost certain to go ahead.

Visitors to Greece, though, were advised to take some euros in cash with them and to ensure they were properly insured.

"We do not anticipate that there will be any need for tour operators to rebook their customers to a different destination," a spokesman for UK travel organisation Abta said.

Abta added that it was not aware of any plans to evacuate holidaymakers from Greece.

The Abta spokesman went on: "Any changes in Greece would be highly unlikely to happen overnight, any switch to a new currency would take time and euros would likely be accepted in the interim.

"Holidaymakers heading out to Greece this summer are advised to take some cash in euros with them as well as other payment methods (credit/debit cards) so that they are covered for all situations.

"We would also advise them, as we would with any destination, to take out travel insurance as soon as they book their holiday to provide protection should they need to cancel.

"At present we have no indication that holidaymakers will be disrupted, however as with all destination matters we will continue to monitor the situation and work with our members on any developments. "

Foreign Office (FO) advice to Britons travelling to Greece has not changed since May 6.

It advises travellers to take more than one method of payment with them and to ensure they have enough money to cover emergencies and any unexpected delays.

The FO said today: "Our travel advice is based on objective assessments of the risks to British nationals.

"These assessments are made by drawing on expert sources of information available to the Government including intelligence, local knowledge and experience of our overseas staff.

"Advice is under constant review, especially for volatile regions or developing crises."

Putin criticises EU handling of crisis

Russian president Vladimir Putin has criticised the European Union's handling of the Greek debt crisis, insisting its focus should be on helping the country restore economic growth.

Mr Putin was speaking as Greece continued on a collision course with its lenders, with the prospect of possible default and a disorderly "Grexit" from the European single currency looming ever larger.

He said Moscow should be "applauded" for sealing an investment agreement with Greece on a pipeline to carry Russian gas to Europe via Turkey, with the potential for transit payments worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year to Athens after its completion in 2019.

The deal came as Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras visited St Petersburg for talks with Mr Putin, which ended without any offer of a Russian loan to ease the current crisis.

Time is running out for Mr Tsipras's left-wing Syriza government, which must find 1.6 billion euro (£1.15 billion) to repay the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by June 30.

Eurozone leaders are insisting they will only release the next tranche of bailout funds Athens needs to make the payment if it signs up to tough new austerity measures - something it is refusing to do.

But Mr Putin said: "If the European Union wants Greece to pay its debts, it should be interested in growing the Greek economy, helping it to pay its debts.

"The European Union should be applauding us. What's wrong with creating jobs in Greece?"

Chancellor George Osborne warned the EU needed to be "prepared for the worst" after a meeting of eurozone group finance ministers in Luxembourg yesterday failed to break the deadlock.

Hopes of preventing the first withdrawal of a member state from the euro - with unpredictable and potentially far-reaching consequences for the rest of the continent - now appear to rest with an emergency summit of eurozone leaders in Brussels on Monday.

Amid signs that ordinary Greeks are taking their money out of the banks in increasing amounts - with two billion euro (£1.4 billion) reportedly withdrawn in the last three days - Mr Osborne said the Treasury was stepping up measures to protect the UK economy from any fallout.

"We have entered the eleventh hour of this Greek crisis, and we urge the Greek government to do a deal before it is too late," said the Chancellor. "We hope for the best, but we now must be prepared for the worst.

"In the United Kingdom we've taken the measures to increase our economic security so we can deal with risks like this from abroad. And clearly now we must go on and complete that plan."

Mr Putin's comments came as he met the heads of international news agencies - including Press Association chief executive Clive Marshall - on the margins of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Addressing the forum earlier in the day, Mr Tsipras sought to turn up the pressure on the Europeans, indicating that he could look to Russia for help instead.

Such a move would alarm EU leaders, threatening to undermine solidarity at a time when they are seeking to maintain pressure on the Kremlin over the continuing conflict in Ukraine, with the renewal of sanctions requiring unanimous approval from member states to prevent them expiring next month.

Standing alongside Mr Putin, the Greek prime minister said Russia was "one of the most important partners for us".

In an apparent nod to his hosts, Mr Tsipras added: "We are at the moment at the centre of a storm, of a whirlpool. But we live near the sea, so we are not scared of storms, we are not scared of open seas, and of going into new seas. We are ready to go to new seas in order to reach new, safe ports."

He called on the EU to return to its founding principles of "solidarity, justice and social justice", warning that "strict economic measures will lead us nowhere".

"The so-called problem of Greece is not just a Greek problem, it is the problem of the whole European Union," said Mr Tsipras.

"We can't continue carrying the burdens of the past. If we continue doing so, continue making the same mistakes again and again, then we are doomed to failure."

Moscow had appeared to indicate it was ready to offer financial help to the Greek administration, with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich saying Russia would "consider" a loan and Mr Putin's spokesman adding: "We would do this because they are our partners and this is a normal practice between countries who are partners."

However, a Kremlin spokesman said the possibility of a loan "wasn't discussed" during face to face talks between Mr Putin and Mr Tsipras, as the two leaders focused on "the necessity of developing investment co-operation".

Press Association

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