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IMF, ECB heads join late-night Greek debt talks in Berlin

After talks that lasted well into the night, the leaders of Germany and France, along with Greece's international creditors, have agreed to work with "real intensity" to reach a deal with Athens in the coming days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel initially welcomed French President Francois Hollande and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to Berlin for talks on the Greek debt crisis.

But according to diplomatic sources, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi unexpectedly joined the late-night summit in an effort to come up with "a final proposal" for Athens, according to the German daily newspaper "Die Welt."

Athens and its creditors from the eurozone countries and the IMF are racing to hammer out a deal that would prevent the country from defaulting on its debt later in June and potentially leaving the monetary union altogether.

The eurozone has set a Friday deadline to conclude the slow-moving talks. This will allow time for institutions and ministers to approve a deal and secure parliamentary backing to disburse frozen aid before Greece's bailout expires at the end of June.

Athens is due to make a 300-million-euro ($327.93 million) repayment to the IMF on Friday amid growing doubts about its ability to meet all of this month's financial obligations.

Problems in Athens

Earlier Monday, in a sign of infighting in Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government, the candidate chosen to represent Greece at the IMF was forced to withdraw after hard leftists in the ruling Syriza party objected to her nomination.

The major complaint, according to the hardliners, was that Elena Panaritis had supported past Greek bailout programs.

Adding to the already difficult discussions, Tsipras contributed a controversial article to the French newspaper "Le Monde" over the weekend before holding an hour-long telephone conference with Merkel and Hollande on Sunday.

In the article, he referred to creditors' demands for further pension cuts and rejection of restoring collective wage bargaining as "the complete abolition of democracy in Europe" and the creation of a "technocratic monstrosity."

When asked about the article's defiant tone, European diplomats said the public show of anger should not be taken too seriously.

"There is a negotiation going on which isn't easy but is making progress," said a diplomat familiar with the exchanges.

In a potential sign of progress, "Die Welt" reported that Tsipras was ready to discuss pension reforms.

According to "Die Welt," German EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger also said that there was still a chance of a deal this week. He noted that Greece had stopped paying suppliers and contractors weeks ago as cash began to run out.

One eurozone official said that even if Athens was able to make its payment to the IMF on Friday, it was less likely that Athens would be able to pay a second installment of 340 million euros due on June 12 without a new injection of cash or a delay. After those payments, Greece owes a further 556 million euros on June 16 and another 340 million on June 19.

av/cmk (AFP, Reuters)