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Greece Talks Under Way In Bid To Avoid Bankruptcy

Greek leaders tried for a second day Sunday to end an ongoing political crisis, under intense pressure to ensure the country doesn't go bankrupt in the next few weeks and that it remains in the eurozone.

The Socialist government of Prime Minister George Papandreou, who narrowly survived a parliamentary confidence vote Saturday, said it has started talks to form a temporary coalition government to run the country for the next four months.

Papandreou was also holding an emergency Cabinet meeting in parliament Sunday afternoon.

The prime minister, mid-way into a four-year term, has said he would step aside as soon as a new unity government is agreed on. The new government would secure a new European debt deal agreed on little more than a week ago, and ensure the country receives a critical installment of bailout loans. Then elections could be held in late February.

Arriving for the Cabinet meeting, Civil Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis said Papandreou's proposal was "a clear, honest ... proposal in today's situation."

But the conservative leader of the main opposition New Democracy party said Sunday no talks between the two parties were taking place and Antonis Samaras reiterated his stance that Papandreou must resign before any coalition discussions can take place.

Samaras made his latest comments after a brief meeting with President Karolos Papoulias, a mainly ceremonial figure who has called for collaboration between the two main parties.

An official with knowledge of the closed-door Cabinet meeting said Papandreou informed his ministers he had offered to go to the country's president along with Samaras in an effort to agree on who would lead an interim government. The official said there had not been any immediate response.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the Cabinet meeting still under way.

It wasn't immediately clear if the Socialists were holding coalition talks with smaller parties as an alternative to the conservative party, or were speaking among themselves about what steps to take.

Greek politicians were hoping to arrive at a solution by Sunday night, so the country can attend a Monday meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels Monday with a semblance of stability.

"It is evident ... that the entire government can and will resign once the national cooperation and discussions result in a new government," said Interior Minister Haris Kastanidis as he arrived for the Cabinet meeting.

"There is a eurogroup tomorrow. If the government resigns today without there being a new government, who will hold talks at the eurogroup?" Kastanidis said.

Greece has been surviving since May 2010 on a first euro110 billion ($152 billion) bailout. But its financial crisis was so severe that a second rescue was needed as the country remained locked out of international bond markets by sky-high interest rates and facing an unsustainable national debt increase.

The new European deal, agreed on by the 27-nation bloc on Oct. 27 after marathon negotiations, would give Greece an additional euro130 billion ($179 billion) in rescue loans and bank support. It would also see banks write off 50 percent of Greek debt, worth some euro100 billion ($138 billion). The goal is to reduce Greece's debts to the point where the country is able to handle its finances without relying on constant bailouts.

Greece's lawmakers must now approve the new rescue deal, putting intense pressure on the country's leaders to swiftly end the political crisis so parliament can convene and put the debt agreement to a vote.

"In these critical moments, the two (main) parties are merely wasting time," said lawmaker Giorgos Kontoyannis, a former New Democracy member of parliament who has joined splinter group Democratic Alliance. "I want to say to my former New Democracy colleagues that our responsibility to our country is individual and not bound by party allegiance."

In return for bailout money, Greece was forced to embark on a punishing program of tax hikes and cuts in pensions and salaries that sent Papandreou's popularity plummeting and his majority in parliament whittled down from a comfortable 10 seats to just two.

Papandreou's government came under renewed threat after his disastrous bid this past week to hold a public referendum on the new euro130 billion ($179 billion) deal. The idea was swiftly scrapped Thursday after an angry response from markets and European leaders who said any popular vote in Greece would determine whether the country would keep its cherished membership in the eurozone. They also vowed to withhold a critical euro8 billion ($11 billion) installment of loans from an existing bailout deal that Greece needs urgently to stave off an imminent and catastrophic default.

After the aborted referendum idea, Papandreou's government survived a confidence vote. Now, EU partners and creditors are pressing Papandreou and other political leaders to form a coalition government as a condition to receive any further rescue funds.

Government spokesman Elias Mossialos told state television Sunday that talks have begun and the name of the new prime minister should be known by Monday, in which case Papandreou would resign. Mossialos later told The Associated Press that his remarks regarding a new premier expressed "a personal wish" and were not an official announcement.

Samaras' party denied any talks were taking place "either in the open or behind the scenes."

The socialists and the main opposition New Democracy differ on the duration of such a caretaker government, with the opposition demanding elections within a few weeks and the government saying the coalition Cabinet should last through the end of February.

This program aired on November 6, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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