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Greece to unveil draft reform bill

The government will present international lenders with its most detailed reform proposal to date. It's meant to signal that Greece means business, putting the debt-ridden nation on track to seal a long-term loan deal.

The draft bill, officials in Athens said on Wednesday, would signal that Greece is serious about the pledges made to its European and International Monetary Fund (IMF) creditors in exchange for an extension of the financial lifeline that has kept the country from drowning under a sea of debt.

While the proposed legislation is not expected to offer any major new concessions, it is said to include concrete steps to crack down on corruption and tax evasion - two considerable contributors to Greece's financial woes. These include a requirement that tourists use a credit card to pay for purchases of 70 euros ($77) or more to make it harder for business owners to cheat. The bill will also overhaul the country's tax system and public administration, as well as impose a levy on TV broadcasting rights and advertisements.

One official added that the Syriza-led leftist government would postpone its planned minimum wage hike, caving to pressure from its lenders. But Labor Minister Dimitris Stratoulis said he would not bend to calls for further pension cuts.

"Our government is making every possible effort right now to have a positive deal...which will respect the main principle of our program since we took power, which is to put a brake on wage and pension cuts," he told Mega TV.

Running out of cash

Athens is in a race against time to secure a long-term loan deal with the so-called Brussels Group, consisting of the IMF, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission. Greece has so far received two aid packages worth a total of 240 billion euros. In addition, its banks are being kept afloat by a 75.5-billion cash-injection courtesy of the ECB's Emergency Liquidity Assistance program.

Still, experts estimate that the Mediterranean nation could run out of money as soon as next month, unless it can convince the Group to unlock the final 7.2-billion-euro tranche of the bailout. A debt payment to the IMF of around 750 million euros falls due in less than two weeks, on May 12.

Despite the rocky road ahead, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday ruled out a default and an exit from the eurozone -

a so-called 'Grexit'

- saying he

expected to sign an agreement with lenders by May 9.

However, investors aren't quite as optimistic,

a survey published this week

by German research group Sentix showed. Around half said they predicted Greece would leave the 19-member currency area within the next year.

Griechenland Finanzminister Yanis Varoufakis

Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis has been criticized for his brash style

Signs of hope

But in a drastic step meant to win over skeptics,

Tsipras on Monday replaced the head of his negotiating team,

controversial Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, with Deputy Foreign Minister and economist Euclid Tsakalotos - a close ally, who is well-respected among Athens' creditors.

Just 24 hours later, the European Commission said talks were now "being made more productive and efficient," adding that the pace of negotiations had "intensified."

The draft bill is set to be debated at a cabinet meeting on Thursday, which would then send it to parliament for a final vote.

"A deal should be reached as soon as possible because it will benefit both sides," Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas said.

pad/uhe (AP, Reuters)

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