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Greece's Tsipras defiant ahead of emergency bailout meeting with lead lenders

ATHENS, Greece – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted Wednesday his government will honour an election promise to end budget austerity — a note of defiance ahead of an expected meeting with the leaders of Germany and France on the country’s troubled bailout.

Tsipras spoke in parliament before lawmakers approved an anti-poverty bill, the first piece of legislation from the left-wing government elected on Jan. 25.

Tsipras is expected to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on the sidelines of an European Union leaders’ meeting Thursday.

Greece is struggling to keep up with a punishing spring debt repayment schedule, but has so far failed to convince rescue lenders to release pending bailout funds. The creditors want to first approve a detailed list of reforms.

“Let them keep their threats for where they work, not for this government and, more importantly, not for this people,” he said at the end of a 30-minute speech to applause from his party’s members.

“To put it plainly: We won’t back down from the commitments we have made.”

The anti-poverty bill — submitted despite objections from rescue creditors — is aimed at providing assistance worth about 200 million euros ($212.7 million) to mostly jobless households considered to be in “extreme poverty.”

Austerity measures demanded by rescue lenders have focused on reducing debt but in the meantime deepened Greece’s recession, causing mass unemployment and financial hardship.

Greece’s talks with the rescue creditors are proceeding slowly amid a clash over whether to accept further spending cuts in exchange for more loans — a delay that has further soured relations between Greece and lead lender Germany.

In Berlin, Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice chancellor, said the impasse should not been seen as a bilateral confrontation.

“This is not about Germany against Greece. It is not about euro countries against Greece,” he said. “It is about keeping the eurozone stable together and wanting to do everything to enable Greece to get out of this difficult situation.”

Although there has been no formal response to Tsipras’ request for the emergency meeting with Merkel and Hollande, Greek government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis indicated that it would go ahead.

The continued worries over Greece hit share prices on the Athens Stock Exchange, which dropped 4.1 per cent Wednesday, continuing a run of losses.

“Unfortunately, in the past 50 days you have lost all the advantages gained by the Greek economy earned from the sacrifices by the Greek people,” said Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, a former finance minister and deputy premier in previous pro-bailout governments.

“You blame foreigners and past governments in a game of shifting responsibility over a disaster that is becoming inevitable,” he said. “The country is descending without brakes. I hope we have time to avoid the impasse.”

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Moulson reported from Berlin.