Greek PM rules out any restructuring of national debt

"The logic of restructuring the debt would be catastrophic for the economy, for our credibility, for our future," Papandreou told a press conference in Thessaloniki where yesterday he had sketched out his economic priorities.

If debt payments were suspended, he said Greece "would head towards a potential and probable collapse of the banking system and the loss of Greek families' property (which) would be a tragedy," he added.

Greece averted default on its debt in May when it agreed to unprecedented austerity cuts in pensions, public sector pay and a sales tax hike in return for a 110-billion-euro (USD 140 billion) rescue package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The measures have triggered waves of strikes and protests, including one in which three people died when the bank they worked in was firebombed by youths participating in a demo in May.

Yesterday, 20,000 people marched against the austerity drive in Thessaloniki, Greece's second city, hours before Papandreou defended the measures in a major speech.

Burdened with debts close to 300 billion euros, the Greek government had little choice but to turn to the EU and IMF after a credit rating downgrade triggered a collapse of investor confidence that drove up Greece's cost of borrowing on the bond market.

Even with the EU-IMF bailout, some economists continue to warn that Greece could in the coming years be forced to restructure its debts, which would likely cause considerable economic damage in the country but also in the broader eurozone as well.

Papandreou stressed that his Socialist government had strived since coming to power 11 months ago "to avoid bankruptcy".

"We have done what we decided to do in order not to get into the logic of bankruptcy," he said.

Asked if new austerity measures were in store, he said that "as long as the economy does well, no new measures are needed," ruling out an increase on heating fuel that the press has recently speculated on.

Tomorrow, IMF, EU and ECB officials are due in Athens for a check-up on the government's success in meeting the conditions for the international bailout so that a third tranche of loans worth nine billion euros can be made.

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