Greek Prime Minister Makes Emergency Return Trip

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Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou cut short his planned visit to the U.S. as concerns by European Union finance ministers deepened over his country's economic stability. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.


In Greece, Prime Minister George Papandreu is holding an emergency cabinet meeting today. Yesterday, he cancelled a planned trip to the U.S. and the U.N. General Assembly to deal with the worsening crisis at home. The country is mired in deep recession. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports Greece's EU partners are disappointed with the slow march toward reform in Athens.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Papandreu was in en route to the U.S. when he was reached by phone and asked to return home by his finance minister. Evangelos Venizelos had just faced sharp criticism from his fellow European finance ministers meeting in Poland. According to Greek media, they expressed concern about the Papandreu government's ability to implement its mid-term plan and secure consensus from the opposition, the media and trade unions. The ministers gave Greece a deadline of four to five days to come up with a new plan. Venizelos himself told reporters there are delays and bickering among eurozone members which could be catastrophic for Greece.

Eurozone officials said Friday they would not decide until October whether Greece had met conditions to receive the sixth installment - about $11 billion - of the $150 billion bailout agreed to last year. Greece had hoped to receive the funds by the end of this month because it says it will run out of cash by mid-October.

Despite draconian austerity measures, Greece has failed to reach its fiscal targets due to a deeper-than-projected recession. Many analysts say the policy of sharp spending cuts and tax hikes imposed by Greece's international lenders - the EU and the IMF - is stifling economic growth, while the debt mountain continues to grow. Popular anger over the constant addition of new austerity measures is directed not only at the government but also at what is seen as ambivalence and confusion among European leaders over how and whether to prevent a Greek default. And with Papandreou's socialist government becoming weaker and weaker, the conservative opposition is riding a wave of public discontent and calling for snap elections. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.

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