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Greece ‘won’t make €1.6bn June repayment’

Greece cannot make debt repayments to the IMF next month unless it achieves a deal with creditors, its interior minister said yesterday, the most explicit remarks yet from Athens about the likelihood of default if talks fail.

Shut out of bond markets and with bailout aid locked, cash-strapped Athens has been scraping state coffers to meet debt obligations and to pay wages and pensions.

With its future as a member of the 19-nation eurozone potentially at stake, a second government minister accused its international lenders of subjecting it to slow and calculated torture.

After four months of talks with its eurozone partners and the IMF, the leftist-led government is still scrambling for a deal that could release up to €7.2bn in remaining aid to avert bankruptcy.

“The four installments for the IMF in June are €1.6bn. This money will not be given and is not there to be given,” interior minister Nikos Voutsis told Greek Mega TV’s weekend show.

Voutsis was asked about his concern over a ‘credit event’, a term covering scenarios like bankruptcy or default, if Athens misses a payment.

“We are not seeking this, we don’t want it, it is not our strategy,” he said. “We are discussing, based on our contained optimism, that there will be a strong agreement (with lenders) so that the country will be able to breathe. This is the bet,” Voutsis said.

Previously, the Athens government has said it is in danger of running out of money soon without a deal, but has insisted it still plans to make all upcoming payments. The government is under pressure to agree to more cuts and reforms to secure the funding, but opposes measures which — it says — make the situation worse by preventing recovery from one of the deepest recessions in modern times.

Voutsis said the government was determined to fight against the lenders’ strategy of “asphyxiation”.

“This policy of extreme austerity and unemployment in Greece must be hit,” he said. “We will not escape from this fight.” In an effort to placate the hard-left faction of his Syriza party, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday the government was on a final stretch towards a deal but would not accept “humiliating terms”.

Energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who sides with the party’s hard-left faction, told its central committee yesterday the government must prepare the Greek people in case there is no deal in the coming days that is compatible with its promises. “The so-called institutions in the last four months have applied a drip-feed torture on the Greek people, one of the most horrible blackmail practices in world history, at the expense of the country,” he said.

He told party cadres the government must be ready for any possible alternative solution to avoid new measures and privatisations.

Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said Greece had made “enormous strides” at reaching a deal with its lenders to avert bankruptcy but it was now up to the institutions to do their bit.

“We have met them three-quarters of the way, they need to meet us one quarter of the way,” he told the BBC.

Varoufakis also said it would be “catastrophic” if Greece left the euro, predicting it would be “the beginning of the end of the common currency project”.

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