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Greek premier calls for more time to implement reforms

Greece's prime minister has asked European leaders for more time to implement biting structural reforms. His plea comes ahead of visits to Berlin and Paris later in the week.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Wednesday called for "breathing space" to stimulate the country's economy before fully implementing spending cuts tied to Athens' bailout package.

"Let me be clear," Samaras told the German daily Bild. "We are not asking for additional money. We are sticking to our commitments and are meeting all our requirements."

"We are making progress in structural reforms and privatizations," the prime minister said. "And it is not fair when some people in Europe want to keep pushing us back into this hole."

Samaras is scheduled to meet in Athens on Wednesday with euro group chief Jean-Claude Juncker. On Friday, he is to hold talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then heads to Paris on Saturday to meet with French President Francois Hollande.

'A nightmare for Greece'

Under its bailout package, Athens is required to reduce the national budget deficit to less than three percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) by 2014. In 2011, the budget deficit stood at 9.3 percent of GDP.

The 11.5 billion euros ($14.3 billion) in budget cuts are expected to hit pensions, social benefits, public sector wages and health care. Some 40,000 civil servants are also expected to lose their jobs. In turn, Greece is to receive 31.5 billion euros in bailout money.

Samaras has rejected a Greek exit from the 17-member eurozone as unacceptable, saying it would be devastating for the country's future.

"It would mean at least five more years of recession and unemployment would rise above 40 percent," Samaras said. "A nightmare for Greece: economic collapse, social unrest and an unseen crisis of democracy."

Greece is currently in its fifth year of recession and hit an unemployment rate of around 23 percent in May.


slk/ipj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)