EU leaders still discussing Greek crisis

European leaders are still meeting to find a last minute solution to avoid a massive debt default by Greece.

Protestors stand behind a huge Greek flag in front of the Greek parliament in central Athens, on 29 June 2015. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - European leaders are still meeting to find a last minute solution to avoid a massive debt default by Greece.

The cash-strapped country is requesting a third bailout from the Eurozone as thousands gather in Athens to voice their support for financial reforms.

If the proposals by Greece are accepted they would allow Athens a new bailout from the Eurozone's European stability mechanism.

The last-minute development comes as Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis confirmed his country would not make a debt payment to the IMF by the midnight deadline.

That will set the stage for a showdown with its creditors ahead of a national referendum on Sunday on its membership of the euro currency.


Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out new negotiations with Greece until after it votes on a proposal from creditors, leaving virtually no hope left to avert a midnight default despite a plea from Athens for a last-minute bailout extension.

As the clock ticked down on Tuesday towards midnight, when billions of euros in locked-up bailout funds are due to expire, euro zone finance ministers called a conference call (1700 GMT) to discuss the Greek request.

Merkel said there could be no new negotiations until after a 5 July referendum that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called on an offer made last week by creditors, which Tsipras has told Greek voters to reject.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker appealed to Athens to accept the deal, while holding out hopes that some extra tweaks could still be possible.

Tsipras, who says the creditors' proposals for pension cuts and tax hikes would ruin Greece, responded with a counter-proposal requesting a two-year deal covering funding support and debt restructuring, an issue the lenders have so far been reluctant to tackle.

If no agreement is reached, Greece will default on a loan to the International Monetary Fund, setting it potentially on a path out of the euro with unforeseeable consequences for both the EU's grand currency project and the global economy.

As the final hours approached, the proposals appeared so far apart that success seemed highly unlikely, with one well placed euro zone official saying there was "no way" euro zone finance ministers would release funds in time for the IMF payment.

Merkel, whose country is Greece's biggest creditor, made clear she believed time had run out.

"This evening at exactly midnight Central European Time the programme expires. And I am not aware of any real indications of anything else," she told a news conference.

She later said Athens would be to blame for allowing the bailout programme to expire.

EU and Greek government sources said Juncker, who spoke to Tsipras late on Monday, had offered to convene an emergency meeting of euro zone finance ministers to approve an aid payment to prevent Athens defaulting, if the Greek leader sent a written acceptance of the terms.

The growing risk of Athens being forced out of the single currency brought into sharp focus the chaos likely to be unleashed in Greece and the risks to the stability of the euro.

"What would happen if Greece came out of the euro? There would be a negative message that euro membership is reversible," said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who a week ago declared that he did not fear contagion from Greece.

"People may think that if one country can leave the euro, others could do so in the future."