... in recent weeks the talks have assumed an increasingly nervous edge. An economic review that should have been completed months ago has been beset by wrangling as Alexis Tsipras's leftist-led government has argued with lenders over the terms of a bailout agreed last summer.

The €86bn (£67.8bn) rescue programme agreed in July 2015 -- the debt-stricken country's third in six years -- followed months of high-octane drama that saw Athens being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy and euro exit. Now, less than a year later -- and with a crucial meeting of eurozone finance ministers lined up for Friday -- a sense of crisis has returned to Greece.


after months of wrangling over pension reform, tax increases and non-performing loans, lenders stepped up their demands at the weekend, with the IMF saying Athens would have to agree to contingency measures worth €3bn on top of the package of €5bn in tax increases and spending cuts it is already negotiating with creditors.

The demand reflected the wildly divergent views of the IMF and the eurozone lenders on whether Athens can achieve agreed fiscal targets -- including a primary surplus on public finances of 3.5% by 2018 -- under the current reform programme.


On Thursday, following Eurostat figures that showed Greece had attained a better-than-anticipated primary budget surplus last year, the leftist leader dug in his heels. What the country required was debt relief, not new austerity measures, he insisted. "Greece, which has a primary surplus of 0.7%, does not need extra measures. What Greece needs is an essential debt relief," Tsipras told Euronews. "We must move forward and finally overcome this crisis."

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