Greece warns speculators as it races for bailout

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A resolute Greek finance minister warned investors Sunday that they would "lose their shirts" betting on the country's economic collapse, as he insisted a massive bailout would come in time to avoid default.

Buoyed by the prospect of a 45-billion-euro (60-billion-dollar) rescue by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, George Papaconstantinou sought to draw a line under months of withering market attacks that have left the eurozone reeling.

Greece has seen its cost of borrowing soar as investors, fearing a default, have demanded greater risk premiums for their loans, which in turn has pushed the country's debt even higher.

Greece's cost of borrowing has also risen as traders made "short" bets that Greek bond prices would slide and bought complex financial instruments that rise in value in tandem with the default risk.

"I can see that... a number of people have been betting in particular ways. All I can say is that they will lose their shirts," warned Papaconstantinou as he tried to allay concerns from Germany, which will provide a large portion of the bailout, about Greek efforts to rein in debt.

Berlin has been reluctant to release the money amid strong domestic opposition ahead of a key regional election on May 9.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said a positive decision would depend "alone on whether Greece in the coming years continues along the saving course on which it has embarked."

The estimated 8.4-billion-euro German pledge will require the approval of the German parliament and is the subject of a legal challenge in the country's top court.

But Greece is scrambling to get the financial package in place ahead of a May 19 deadline to pay bondholders more than eight billion euros, leaving only a small window to act or face a crippling default.

Athens has a public debt approaching 300 billion euros.

"We are all confident that this will be done in time and we will continue to be able to finance Greek public debt without absolutely any problem," Papaconstantinou said.

The Greek finance minister also ruled out the prospect of restructuring Greece's debt or an exit from the eurozone.

"It is a scenario that has no basis to reality. Greece is a member of the eurozone, will always remain a member of the eurozone, will always remain within the European Union, full stop."

But he added that the IMF and EU rescue package would include "strong conditionality" that is likely to mean further tough measures to cut public spending and raise taxes.

He said a rash of privatizations were the pipeline as the government tries to boost revenues.

The International Monetary Fund's managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said speed was of the essence if a Greek bailout was to soothe money markets.

"The IMF, the European partners and everyone involved in the financing effort recognizes the need for speed," he said.

Greece's debt crisis has hit the euro hard, plunging the eurozone into the most serious crisis of its 11-year history and placing other eurozone nations, most notably Portugal, Italy, Spain and Ireland in the firing line.

A senior EU official suggested that further delays, which he attributed to German election campaigning, could trigger fresh panic on markets that have repeatedly shown skepticism over EU promises to help.

"The election campaign can't justify anything," the official insisted. Germany's government leaders "will have to explain their position later to their citizens if the euro area as a whole is destabilized.

"This is not and has never been only about Greece," he stressed.

Spanish economics minister Elena Salgado said EU member states would soon decide whether or not to announce the full price of the three-year bailout, or simply the EU's 30 billion euro commitment for this year.

"This is something we will discuss in the coming days," she said.

Papaconstantinou held a series of crisis meetings in Washington over the weekend on the fringes of the IMF and World Bank's spring meetings.

© 2010 AFP

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