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Merkel lauds Greece progress as Samaras visits

Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised the "substantial progress" Greece has made in its economic reforms. Visiting Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said his government intended to continue its course.

Merkel and Samaras sought to focus on the positives after their meeting on Friday, amid some European dissatisfaction with Greece's budget for 2014, presented to parliament in Athens on Thursday.

"Greece has made substantial progress," Merkel told reporters in Berlin, saying the country had earned "a little bit of trust" from its partners and creditors. The German chancellor said that although further economic reforms were still required, "there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Prime Minister Samaras, meanwhile, sought to assure Merkel that his government would stick to its current course of austerity.

"We are ready to deliver. And we will not be stopping," Samaras said, adding that he did not believe Greece would ultimately require a third package of emergency loans.

Papering the cracks

Samaras and Merkel met amid tension over Greece's spending plans for next year, with international creditors concerned that further cuts will be required in 2014.

"Many eurozone finance ministers are slowly losing their patience," Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said recently. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble issued a similar appeal to Athens on German public radio early on Friday, saying the country must not "reduce their efforts at the first sign of improvement."

Despite the ongoing negotiations on releasing the latest tranche of emergency loans for Greece, Samaras said he was "confident that there will soon be an agreement with the Troika," a reference to the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Defense spending and the pace of privatization for certain Greek industries are among the main points of contention in talks, after Athens rejected any further tax increases or welfare cutbacks.

Greece is walking something of an economic tightrope, simultaneously trying to cut its debts and emerge from a six-year recession. The provisional budget proposed on Thursday forecast a return to minimal economic growth in 2014.

msh/ph (AFP, dpa, Reuters)