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Greek PM says bailout deal is close


A Greek flag is seen on a balcony in Athens, as the country's prime Minister said a bailout deal was close (AP)

A Greek flag is seen on a balcony in Athens, as the country's prime Minister said a bailout deal was close (AP)

A Greek flag is seen on a balcony in Athens, as the country's prime Minister said a bailout deal was close (AP)

Greece's prime minister said he hopes bailout talks between the cash-strapped country and its international creditors are "very close" to an initial deal.

Alexis Tsipras ruled out early elections if the dragging negotiations fail.

He told Star TV that he believes a first agreement can be struck by the end of next week, which can then be ratified by Greece's European partners.

"I think that by the 9th of May we will have an agreement" that will allow release of some bailout funds, he said.

Since its election in January, his radical left-led government has been locked in fraught talks with other European countries that use the euro currency and provide the bulk of the bailout cash that has kept Greece afloat for five years.

At stake is a final 7.2 billion-euro (£5.14 billion) rescue loan instalment, which will enable the country to keep up payments to its European creditors and the International Monetary Fund - as well as to state employees and pensioners.

Greece's cash reserves are perilously low, and failure to meet its obligations could potentially trigger a chain of events eventually forcing the country to abandon the euro.

A major test would be on May 12, when Athens has to pay the IMF about 700 million euro (£500 million).

Mr Tsipras said if the government has to choose "our priority is our responsibility towards society, it is (paying) pensions and salaries".

Creditors are demanding further reforms and savings, and have encountered strong opposition from Mr Tsipras' government that was elected on promises to alleviate five years of income cuts and fiscal pain.

Mr Tsipras ruled out early elections if the talks fail. But, while insisting he expects an agreement, he did not exclude holding a referendum on the matter.

"If I end up having an agreement that puts me outside the limits (of my mandate), I will have no other resort," he said. "The people will decide - obviously without elections, I want to make that clear."

Earlier yesterday, Greece reshuffled its bailout negotiating team following fierce criticism of its flamboyant finance minister, gaining market applause as investors hoped it will facilitate a deal to save the country from bankruptcy.

Mr Tsipras insisted that Yanis Varoufakis, who has come under fire from his European peers for dragging his feet in the bailout talks, continued to enjoy the government's support. He will still lead the negotiations.

But Euclid Tsakalotos, who is minister of international financial relations and part of the foreign ministry, will handle the co-ordination within Mr Varoufakis' negotiating team.

Mr Tsakalotos is close to Mr Tsipras and has often accompanied Mr Varoufakis on trips to European capitals during the negotiations.

The moves suggest Athens is intent on reaching a deal and the main Greek stock index rallied on the news, closing up 4.4%.

Yields on the country's two-year bonds - a gauge of market fears that the country might default - fell almost 2 percentage points to about 23%.

Mr Varoufakis was rebuked by Greece's creditors most recently at a finance ministers' meeting in Latvia, where he failed to come up with a list of economic reforms creditors are demanding.

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