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Greek PM Tsipras presses for early May debt deal

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has expressed confidence a deal with international lenders will be reached by early May. But he warned anything not covered by the government's mandate would result in a referendum.

In one of his first major television interviews since being elected in January, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Tuesday he was optimistic an outline deal with international creditors could be reached by May 9. That's three days before a debt payment to the IMF of about 750 million euros ($815.5 million) falls due.

He combined his hope with the warning that he would have to resort to a referendum if lenders insisted on demands deemed unacceptable by his left-wing government, which was elected to end austerity.

A day earlier,

Tsipras had reshuffled the country's team in charge of negotiations with creditors

and EU finance ministers. The move effectively took the talks out of the hands of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who had fallen out of favor with lenders and many EU officials in Brussels.

But Tsipras on Tuesday once more defended Varoufakis, saying that he appreciated his clear language and vision of Greece's future.

He conceded, though, that Varoufakis was at the center of a negative climate at the negotiating table. "Part of the negotiating game obviously is to deconstruct the person who sits opposite you at the negotiating table," Tsipras said in the televised interview.

Turning to tax sinners

In a separate move Tuesday, the Greek government said it was preparing a bill that would allow owners of undeclared money abroad to be taxed at a discount rate and walk away without a penalty.

Under the planned law, hitherto undeclared deposits in Switzerland and elsewhere would be taxed at a rate of 15 to 20 percent as an incentive for those who have sent money abroad, but have not reported it as income to Greek tax authorities.

Depositors who have evaded reporting incomes would otherwise face a 46-percent tax rate in penalties if caught.

Varoufakis said once the bill was passed by parliament, a political agreement would be signed between Greece and Switzerland on the exchange of information on Greek deposits held in Swiss banks.

Experts have claimed there are some 80 billion euros in Greek deposits in Swiss banks, two thirds of which are believed to be undeclared.

hg/bk (Reuters, dpa)

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