* Athens has been lobbying for extension of two more years
* Greece to put austerity plan to parliament next week
* Democratic Left says not appeased by troika concessions
* EU and IMF say issues remain before austerity deal
By Lefteris Papadimas and George Georgiopoulos
ATHENS, Oct 24 Greece's finance minister said on
Wednesday that his country had been given more time by its
international lenders to implement austerity cuts, an assertion
played down by leading European Union officials.
European paymaster Germany said the EU would only decide on
the matter after receiving a report on Greece's progress from
the 'troika' of lenders - the European Commission, the European
Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund - while
ECB President Mario Draghi said no final decision had been made.
But Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said the delay
had already been agreed and that a package of austerity measures
would be put to parliament next week - even though junior
coalition partners have refused to back some of the proposals.
After months of wrangling on the 13.5-billion-euro package
of spending cuts and reforms, he said the near-bankrupt country
had won additional concessions from its lenders and had largely
wrapped up talks on the plan.
The EU and IMF lenders, however, said some issues were still
outstanding, despite progress in recent days.
A deal on the package is crucial for Greece's efforts to
unlock more aid under its latest bailout, with the country just
three weeks away from running out of cash.
"Today, we obtained the extension," Stournaras told
parliament, referring to being given an additional two years to
hit bailout targets, something Athens has been lobbying for.
"All the scenarios that we are working on with the
(international lenders) are based on the assumption of an
extension," he said.
An earlier Reuters report cited a draft agreement between
Greece and the troika that specified Athens will have until
2016 rather than until 2014 to hit its budget deficit targets.
Speaking in Berlin, Draghi said: "The review is not yet
finished. I understand progress has been made, but some parts
need to be defined."
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble stressed the need
for Greece to fulfil its bailout terms.
But he added: "If the troika should come to the conclusion
that there are objective things that the Greeks cannot change on
their own and if it makes suggestions for how to solve this,
then we will consult on that in the German Bundestag (lower
house of parliament) and decide on them accordingly."
Even if Greece strikes a deal with lenders abroad, it faces
a difficult battle at home.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's allies - the PASOK
Socialists and the small Democratic Left party - have yet to
back the austerity package, with the smaller party refusing to
budge on its stance despite the latest concessions from lenders.
Both parties have refused to support demands by foreign
lenders to cut wages and reduce severance payments, but have
maintained that they do not want to jeopardise the government or
Greece's place in the euro zone.
Stournaras urged the parties to change their stance, citing
new concessions the government had eked out overnight.
"This morning, after an all-night effort, the troika backed
down on two main issues - severance payments and the notice
period required before a layoff," Stournaras told parliament.
"To a great extent, the negotiations have been completed.
But even now, we are trying for improvements."
But that failed to impress Democratic Left.
"As things stand, my position remains unchanged," party
chief Fotis Kouvelis told Reuters.
The package will be put to parliament next week in two
separate bills on austerity cuts and labour reforms, he said.
The separation is designed to ensure that the austerity cuts
will pass even if Democratic Left votes against the labour
reforms, Greek officials said.
The party commands only 16 deputies in the 300-seat
parliament, meaning the bills could still pass without its
But if it did vote against, the already fragile coalition's
stability could be undermined, and questions could be raised
about the government's commitment to reform.
Stournaras openly raised the issue of inflicting losses on
Greece's official sector lenders by saying it was trying cut its
debt mountain by asking for lower interest rates and an
extension of maturities on its bailout loans.
Greece's debt was already cut by 106 billion euros earlier
this year under a deal that imposed losses on private-sector
bondholders. But with its economy mired in its deepest postwar
recession, and tax and privatisation receipts sluggish, there is
a growing sense that Greece will need additional debt relief.