France: Europe should help Greece avoid default

Columns of the Parthenon temple are seen behind a European Union flag in Athens, Greece, Nov. 4, 2011. AFP/Getty Images

PARIS - European nations should do everything possible to help Greece avoid a default despite concerns about whether Athens is a reliable borrower, France's prime minister said Friday.

Tensions between Athens and other European capitals hit new highs this week as eurozone ministers delayed to next Monday a decision on a bailout agreement and demanded more commitments from Greece.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon took Greece's side, warning that the fallout of letting the country go up in financial flames would be far-reaching.

"We must do absolutely everything so that there is not a default by Greece, that would be dramatic for Greeks themselves and dramatic for Europeans," he said on RTL radio Friday.

Now that the Greek Parliament has approved austerity measures imposed by international creditors and banks have agreed to help in the bailout, Fillon said, "the Europeans must now honor their commitments. That is the position that France is defending."

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Some European politicians have downplayed the effects of such a debt default by Greece, but Fillon called that "totally irresponsible."

Eurozone ministers are due to meet on Monday to decide on the bailout. Hopes that they will clear the 130 billion euro ($169 billion) bailout deal as well as a related bondholders' writedown pushed markets higher on Friday. The euro rose 0.2 percent and stock markets rose across the board.

That confidence was shaken earlier this week, however, as politicians from Germany and the Netherlands had questioned Greek promises to implement far-reaching cuts and reforms in return for the bailout.

Resentment has been mounting in Greece over what many see as the humiliation of the country and the hardship brought on by increasing demands from the country's creditors that have left the country in a fifth year of recession.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in particular rankled Greeks when he urged the country to postpone its general elections, tentatively set for April, to make sure the current government has time to implement reforms.

The comments were seen as an inadmissible intrusion into a sovereign country's politics and fueled outrage within the halls of power in Athens and across the media.

"I will not accept my country to be disparaged by Mr. Schaeuble," Greek President Karolos Papoulias said Wednesday. "Who is Mr. Schaeuble to disparage Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finns? We always had the pride to defend not just our freedom, not just our country, but the freedom of Europe," he said.

Though he backed Greece's right to get its bailout without further delays, Fillon on Friday offered blunt criticism of the rioters in Athens, who on Sunday torched dozens of buildings to protest against new austerity measures.

The Greek measures "by the way, are not much bigger than what the Portuguese, Spanish or Italians are doing, and they are not burning down their capitals," Fillon said.

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