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Greek PM Tsipras: I can win over eurozone creditors

Greece's prime minister has said he can win a dispute with European creditors who pulled a recently-announced debt relief package for his country.

Boosted by French president Francois Hollande and other left-leaning European Union leaders, Alexis Tsipras said there was room for "a breakthrough, without blackmail".

He will be making his case on his country's debt problems to German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday.

At the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, Mr Hollande said "it is out of the question to ask for further additional efforts from Greece or prevent them from taking a number of sovereign measures that respect the commitments" previously undertaken by his country.

Days after a December 5 eurozone agreement to approve some debt relief, Mr Tsipras announced a Christmas bonus for around 1.6 million low-income pensioners and committed to restore a lower sales tax rate for Aegean Sea islanders.

The move surprised the eurozone creditors, who suspended the debt relief.

But in Brussels Mr Tsipras expressed confidence the dispute with European bailout lenders would be resolved soon.

"I, as you can see, am extremely calm, and think it is something that will be overcome very soon. The (Christmas bonus) does not in any way threaten the bailout programme and the targets for the 2016 budget surplus," he said, adding that bailout creditors were preparing a report on the issue.

Mr Tsipras said other more crucial issues would determine the successful conclusion of Greece's bailout talks with its European creditors and the International Monetary Fund.

"I believe that in the near future all parties will take the necessary initiatives to bridge our differences," he said.

He said Germany was the only European country to question the bonus.

"It is unacceptable for some to try to revive a negotiating game to the detriment of Greece and its people, which has made huge sacrifices in the name of Europe," Mr Tsipras said. "This is not reasonable."

He also accused the IMF of pressing Greece to adopt new austerity measures for after the end of the programme.

"No democratic parliament ... could accept such a demand and decide on measures to be implemented, if needed, after three years," he said.

EU Parliament president Martin Schulz, another socialist, came to Mr Tsipras' defence, although he acknowledged that strictly speaking, the Greek government's decisions had not complied with what was agreed to.

"I can understand very well what the Greek government has done, because it is trying to protect the most vulnerable a little bit in the time before Christmas," Mr Schulz said.

"So I think that the eurogroup, when it meets again in January, will perhaps find a way to reconcile the two things - compliance with the agreements with the necessary flexibility that a government needs to preserve social stability in the country."

In Greece, MPs approved the controversial Christmas bonus payment. The article on the bonus, which Athens wants to distribute next week, was approved by 196 votes, while 61 MPs from the main opposition conservative party abstained.

Later this month Greece's parliament is to vote on Mr Tsipras' pledge to restore a lower sales tax rate for Aegean Sea islanders who are struggling to cope with mass arrivals of migrants from Turkey.

As MPs prepared to vote on Thursday, around 5,000 pensioners marched peacefully to Mr Tsipras' office to protest at years of cuts to their pensions under the country's bailout commitments.

AP

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