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EU, IMF shoot down Greece 'rift' rumor

Greece and its lenders have traded barbs ahead of a crucial meeting that could mean make or break for the debt-ridden nation. The escalation came after a string of diplomatic overtures meant to prevent a 'Grexit.'

If Athens had hoped to drive a wedge between its international creditors, it failed miserably - perhaps even bringing them closer than they had been just 24 hours earlier.

As negotiators in Brussels continued their seemingly endless search for common ground on Wednesday, Greece's paymasters left no doubt that they are united in their cause.

"The European Commission, the European Central Bank [ECB] and the International Monetary Fund [IMF] share the same objective of helping Greece achieve financial stability and growth," the trio, also known as the Brussels Group, said in a rare joint statement.

"The institutions continue to work closely together toward that goal. All three institutions are working hard to achieve concrete progress on May 11," they added, referring to a high-stakes Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance minister scheduled for next Monday, which could determine whether cast-strapped Greece will see the final 7.2-billion-euro ($8.1 billion) instalment of its 240-billion-euro bailout.

Collision course

The show of unity came a day after the Greek government blamed failure to yet reach a deal on internal divisions between its lenders, saying they carried "the exclusive responsibility" for the three-month impasse in talks.

"Serious divergences and contradictions between the creditors, the European Union and International Monetary Fund, are hindering the negotiations" with Athens, the hard-left Greek government claimed on Tuesday.

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The heated rhetoric, though not uncharacteristic of the strained relationship between Greece and its creditors, marked a somewhat surprising escalation.

Athens' assailment appeared to collide with a charm-offensive that had been in the works for over a week and was launched just hours before the allegations, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras dispatched several key ministers to some of the eurozone's top addresses in an effort to save his country from impending bankruptcy.

Exhaustive or exhausted, that's the question

Tuesday's diplomatic scramble was widely seen as a last-ditch effort to secure support for the final tranche ahead of two big debt repayments to the IMF - the biggest one, 750 million euros, coming due the day after the Europgroup meeting.

The smaller one, representing 200 million euros in interest, was paid on Wednesday after the cash-strapped Greek government had ordered local governments to hand over their cash reserves. However, some had resisted the commands over concerns that paying back the IMF would mean not having enough money to pay Greeks' wages and pensions later this month.

While the latest war of words is unlikely to torpedo Monday's meeting, it is a strong warning signal that negotiations could soon blow past the four-month mark.

pad/uhe (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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