European leaders confront Greek PM ahead of G20

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials confronted Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday at crisis talks on the eve of the G20 summit.

Eurozone leaders are reportedly furious Papandreou is planning a referendum for Greek voters on last week's deal to slash his government's debt, and were to demand answers in Cannes just ahead of the broader summit.

IMF director Christine Lagarde, EU President Herman van Rompuy and European Commission chairman Jose Manuel Barroso joined the French and German leaders for talks on Greece's shock decision, announced Monday.

After these first talks, Luxembourg's Prime Minister and the eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker said: "We took a decision last week as 17 (member states), we can't allow anyone to disassociate himself from that decision."

Later, Papandreou himself arrived at the Palais des Festivals summit venue in this French resort town, and met the leaders at a tense working dinner -- Sarkozy's second of the night, after dining with China's Hu Jintao.

Sarkozy summoned Papandreou to Cannes on the eve of the broader summit to try to find a way out of the crisis.

A French G20 source said it was too late to persuade Athens to abandon the referendum plan but Paris hopes to convince Greece to hold it quickly and to confront voters with a stark choice -- stay or leave the eurozone.

"It is too late to persuade them to go back on the decision to hold a referendum," the source said. "The idea is that they hold the referendum as quickly as possible and make it about being in the euro."

Many Greeks are opposed to the rescue package because of the stringent austerity measures attached to it but most favour remaining in the eurozone, according to recent opinion polls.

The referendum has thrown into doubt the eurozone's plan to resolve the crisis through a major write-off of Greek debt, support for banks to absorb their losses and a major boost in the firepower of the EU rescue fund.

© 2011 AFP

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