The managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, has issued a statement on Facebook seeking to explain comments made in a newspaper interview. This response followed an online offensive from unhappy Greeks.
The International Monetary Fund's top official issued a lengthy statement on her Facebook site at the weekend, responding more than 10,000 angry and often explicit messages on her account.
Lagarde had said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper that she had greater sympathy for impoverished children in Africa seeking an education than the plight of the Greek people, in reponse to a question on whether human emotion made her job more difficult.
The answer, though perhaps more carefully worded than some of the subsequent reports on it suggested, led to a wave of angry online responses.
"As I have said many times before, I am very sympathetic to the Greek people and the challenges they are facing. That's why the IMF is supporting Greece in its endeavor to overcome the current crisis and return to the path of economic growth, jobs and stability," Lagarde wrote on her inundated Facebook page.
"An important part of this effort is that everyone should carry their fair share of the burden, especially the most privileged and especially in terms of paying their taxes. That is the point I was emphasizing when I spoke to the Guardian newspaper as part of a broader interview some time ago," the statement concluded.
Greater sympathy for children in Africa
Within 24 hours, this subsequent post had attracted 11,458 comments, most of them critical.
"You should say that to the relatives of the 3,000 Greeks that have committed suicide, to the one million unemployed," a user said under the name Ntavos Paok.
In the original article, Lagarde was asked how she could block out the human impacts of austerity when setting cost-cutting targets for the indebted Greek government - whether it was possible to take a more hard-nosed attitude.
"I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time," Lagarde told the Manchester-based paper. "Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time."
Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos responded by saying "nobody can humiliate the Greek people during the crisis, and I say this today addressing specifically Ms. Lagarde ... who with her stance insulted the Greek people. I call on her to re-think what she wanted to say."
Greece has accepted two sets of emergency international loans from the IMF and its European partners. The lower-interest funds are being released on a piecemeal basis and are tied to tough economic reforms. The country, meanwhile, is headed for its fifth consecutive year of recession.
Tax evasion, especially by the most wealthy people in the country, has been cited as one of the more notorious reasons for the Greek economic problems.
msh/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)