* EU officials say package must be agreed by mid-month
* Party official blames missing paperwork for fresh delay
* Merkel promises not to force Greece out of the euro zone
* Dutch PM says euro zone can live with Greek exit
By Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos
ATHENS, Feb 8 Greek parties will try again
on Wednesday to agree a reform deal in return for a new
international rescue to avoid a chaotic default, after delays
prompted some EU leaders to warn that the euro zone can live
One deadline after another has come and gone. Leaders of the
three parties in the coalition of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos
postponed on Tuesday what had been billed as a crunch meeting
because of missing paperwork, according to one official.
Papademos - a technocrat parachuted in last November to
secure the new 130 billion euro ($172 billion) rescue from the
IMF and European Union - is trying to persuade the party leaders
to accept austerity and reform measures which are likely to
prove unpopular with an already angry Greek electorate.
Papademos is expected to meet the leaders at about 12:30
p.m. (1030 GMT) to discuss the draft deal struck with the IMF
and EU, a government source said. Most points have been settled
but the leaders would be asked to make a choice on options on
some fiscal issues, he added.
Facing a parliamentary election possibly as early as April,
coalition leaders have shown little sense of urgency, seemingly
deaf to demands from euro zone leaders to make up their minds
fast. Greece faces bankruptcy next month unless it gets the
rescue funding to meet big debt repayments then.
"We can't say a plain yes or no unless we have assurances
from the relevant authorities of the state that these actions
are constitutional and will lead the country out of the crisis,"
said George Karatzaferis, who leads the far-right LAOS party.
"There is time. When it comes to the future of the country,
we will find the time," he told reporters on Tuesday night.
Some financial markets showed hope that Greece would pull
off the bailout deal. Prices of German government bonds, which
investors buy at times of uncertainty for their perceived
safety, fell on Wednesday. The euro also hit a fresh two-month
high versus the dollar.
Euro zone officials say the full package must be agreed with
Greece and approved by the euro zone, European Central Bank and
International Monetary Fund before Feb. 15.
The party official said on Tuesday the heads of the
conservative New Democracy, PASOK socialists and LAOS had yet to
receive the draft agreement with the EU and IMF half an hour
before they were supposed to meet Papademos.
Party leaders have hesitated to accept the tough terms of
the deal, which are certain to mean a big drop in living
standards for many Greeks.
An opinion poll on Wednesday showed that PASOK,
which ruled Greece until the government of George Papandreou
collapsed last November, has most to fear when elections are
held to replace the interim national coalition of Papademos.
The monthly survey by Public Issue for Kathimerini newspaper
showed support for PASOK had collapsed to eight percent from the
nearly 44 percent it took when it returned to power in 2009.
Austerity imposed by the coalition has hit traditional PASOK
voters hard, many of whom have turned their backs on all the
government parties. Support for the Democratic Left, which
refused to join the coalition, surged to 18 percent.
Unions staged a 24-hour strike on Tuesday, and protesters
tussled with police outside parliament, chanting: "No to
mediaeval labour conditions!"
Deadlines are losing significance. Last weekend, Finance
Minister Evangelos Venizelos said a deal had to be done by
Sunday. Then the parties sailed past a Monday deadline to give
their response to the EU, promising that Tuesday would be the
day for decisions.
Such apparent dithering is a challenge to the authority of
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government is a major
funder of Greek bailouts. She said on Monday that "time is of
the essence" and expressed bewilderment about the delays.
Greek resentment is increasingly directed at Germany.
Striking protesters burned a German and Nazi flag in central
Athens on Tuesday.
Merkel tried to calm the atmosphere, saying that forcing
Greece to abandon the euro would have "unforeseeable
"I will have no part in forcing Greece out of the euro," she
said in response to a question from a Greek student at a meeting
with young people in a Berlin museum.
Euro zone countries cannot be forced out of the currency
bloc by their peers. But some policymakers are starting to say
in public what they have been saying in private: that if Athens
fails to accept the terms, they might not do much to prevent
Greece falling out of its own accord.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the euro zone could
live without Greece if it did not keep its side of the bargain.
"We are currently so strong in the rest of the euro zone, in
the countries who have the euro, that we can handle an exit of
Greece - a Greece which runs into serious trouble," Rutte told
Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
"They really have to implement all the measures they have
promised to take. If that doesn't happen we can't help them," he
Such comments awaken deep fears among Greeks that they will
be cast adrift from the euro zone and left with a new national
drachma currency which would probably dive in value.