Greece's lenders to resume bailout review as farmers protests reforms

Greece's lenders to resume bailout review as farmers protests reforms

Athens (AFP) - Negotiations between Greece and its creditors on the first review of the country's bailout will resume Monday, against the backdrop of ongoing demonstrations by farmers protesting pension reforms imposed by international lenders.

The Greek finance ministry confirmed the resumption of the talks, which come as farmers continue to blockade highways in several places over the government's plans to scrap benefits such as income tax breaks and cheaper fuels and push through reforms to a national insurance scheme.

The government has called on the farmers to enter talks on ending the two-week-old protests.

In an interview with Naftemporiki newspaper on Saturday, Labour Minister George Katrougalos said the government was "ready to discuss with the farmers" and there was "room for improvement in their new insurance policy".

The reforms will be discussed at the talks with representatives of the European Union and IMF, which will take place in two phases, with a break at the end of next week.

In order to abide by the bailout terms, the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced plans to lower the maximum pension to 2,300 euros ($2,500) a month from 2,700 euros currently and introduce a new minimum guaranteed basic pension of 384 euros.

It also wants to merge pension funds and increase social security contributions by both employers and staff.

Lawyers, engineers and sailors also oppose the reforms and Greek unions have announced a general strike -- the third in as many months -- on February 4.

"The agreement for the new insurance plan will reflect mutual compromises and concessions," Economy Minister George Stathakis told Agora newspaper.

Greece must save 1.8 billion euros from state spending on pensions under a three-year bailout signed with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in July.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said Friday that after its bailout review Greece would get down to talks with its creditors on renegotiating its debt pile.