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Greece, creditors divided ahead of new debt talks

BRUSSELS - Greece and its European creditors converged on Brussels on Friday aiming to bridge major differences over Athens' request for a six-month loan extension to help pay off massive debts and keep it from falling out of the euro.

The meeting is the third among finance ministers from the 19-nation eurozone in just over a week as Greece's European bailout program is due to expire on Feb. 28.

Friday's emergency meeting was called to respond to the left-wing Greek government's demand for more time to finalize its current bailout program and negotiate new arrangements with its partners that will be less onerous on Greek citizens.

The proposal, however, did not promise to continue all of the budget cuts and reforms that the eurozone - particularly Germany -- has been adamant it should stick to. Germany, the most influential creditor, has claimed Greece's latest proposal is a "Trojan horse" to help the government dodge its commitments.

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras swept to power last month on a pledge to ease the budget belt-tightening and reorganize the 240 billion euro ($272 billion) bailout debt.

So far, the government has sometimes sent out mixed messages which did not go down well with the other eurozone nations and EU institutions.

"The Greeks have acted like elephants in a China shop," German EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Deutschlandfunk Friday. "Now they slowly realize what the real numbers are. But they have already done quite a bit to sap the confidence of their European partners."

The EU Commission said Oettinger spoke in a personal capacity.

The Greek government has faced the unpalatable prospect of reneging on its election promises to ease the austerity measures weighing so heavily on Greek citizens, or possibly leaving the group of countries using the euro single currency.

In the short term, if no solution is found, Greece could be left to handle its debts alone from next month.

Late Thursday, Tsipras held telephone conversations with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel after Germany sharply criticized the Greek compromise offer.

Germany argues that Greece has failed to provide detailed alternatives to cost-cutting reforms imposed by the previous government that helped the country balance its budget after decades of excessive borrowing.

"There are a lot of questions that have to be cleared up," German Finance Ministry spokeswoman Marianne Kothe said Friday. "And the problem is not so much what is in the application as what is not in there."

Overall, the European Union's executive Commission was more upbeat than Oettinger.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker "sees in this letter a positive sign which, in his assessment, could pave the way for a reasonable compromise in the interest of financial stability in the euro area as a whole," his spokesman said Thursday.