IMF chief tries to ease Greece fears

He was responding to a Greek
journalist who said Greeks are demonising the IMF and fear the country’s
economic crisis will be worse with its involvement.

He replied that the IMF was there
to help Greece, but deflected questions about negotiations with its government.

On Friday, Greece asked for an
EU-IMF bailout of its debt-ridden economy.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn was speaking after
the agency’s main ministerial steering committee met in Washington.

‘Act fast’

The agency has a reputation for
requiring borrowing countries to make deep cuts in popular government spending
programmes, says the BBC’s economic correspondent, Andrew Walker, from the IMF
headquarters in Washington.

But Mr. Strauss-Kahn said the Greek
people should think of the IMF as a “cooperative organisation” where
the countries of the world work together to help those in trouble by providing
resources and advice on behalf of the international community.

“Greek citizens should not
fear the IMF,” he said. “We are there to try to help them.”

Meanwhile, the French economy
minister, Christine Lagarde, warned the European Union needed to be firmer with
its members to prevent future crises.

She told the French newspaper,
Journal du Dimanche, that Greece had not respected its euro zone commitment:
“We will need stricter control mechanisms to make sure we won’t fall into
a bottomless pit.”

She added that the EU would come
down hard on Greece if it failed to act prudently: “In the case of default
on repayment, we will immediately put the foot on the brake.”

Earlier, US Treasury Secretary
Timothy Geithner called on the IMF, the EU and the Greek government to act
quickly to tackle Greece’s debt crisis.

Mr. Geithner asked the IMF and
Eurozone countries to put together a package of strong reforms and financial
support after talks with with Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou,
Mr. Strauss-Kahn and several EU officials.

“Secretary Geithner encouraged
them to move quickly to put in place a package of strong reforms and
substantial concrete financial support,” said a statement from his office
after the talks.

Athens protest

Consideration of Greece’s request
for emergency loans totalling 40bn euros ($53bn; £35bn) in the first year has
been a focus of talks at the twice-yearly IMF meeting.

Nations using the euro would
contribute 30bn euros with the rest coming from the IMF.

The terms of the loans have not
been agreed, but Mr. Strauss-Kahn has said the IMF will “move expeditiously”
in response to Greece’s appeal.

Mr. Rehn said he thought the EU-IMF
package could be completed by early May.

The funds are needed later that
month when a large tranche of Greece’s debt comes due for renewal.

German officials have said Berlin
will do its bit.

But there has been public
opposition to funding a bail-out and Chancellor Angela Merkel said any aid
would come with “very strict conditions”, including a credible
savings plan.

The Greek government has already
taken austerity measures, including cutting government workers’ pay, freezing
pensions and raising taxes.

The cuts have proved unpopular,
prompting strikes and demonstrations such as a march through Athens on Friday
in which several thousand protesters took to the streets.

The government’s cost of borrowing
on international markets has spiralled, making it prohibitively expensive for
Greece to borrow money from investors to service its debt.

Athens had hoped that just the
promise of EU support, agreed last month, would be enough to reassure markets
and help its recovery.

But Greece’s problems have
continued to hit investor confidence in the euro and other European economies.

Ahead of the meeting, the Group of
20 big economies said the world was emerging faster than expected from its deep
recession.

G20 finance ministers said the pace
of the recovery was largely due to the huge amounts of government money pumped
into national economies.

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