Greek PM George Papandreou reshuffles cabinet

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Media captionMr Papandreou says he is determined to help deliver Greece from its financial crisis

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is reshuffling his cabinet in a bid to push through unpopular austerity measures demanded by the EU.

The proposed reforms have sparked riots on the streets of Athens, nationwide strikes and rattled global markets.

The French and German leaders are due to meet shortly in Berlin to discuss how to prevent Greece defaulting.

Reports suggest Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, who drew up the measures, is to lose his job.

Mr Papandreou has reportedly promoted current Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos, an old party foe, to head the finance ministry.

Athens is seeking approval for a package of 28bn euros (£24.6bn; $40.5bn) of cuts, due to take effect from 2012 to 2015.

The policies are required for the release of the next tranche of aid - 12bn euros - from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Financial lifeline

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are set to discuss how to ensure the country can avoid default on its sovereign debt - which amounts to some 340bn billion euros.

French and German banks have the most exposure to Greek debt, holding, between them, 55% of Europe's total exposure.

Berlin and Paris have differed over the handling of the Greek crisis: Mrs Merkel has been insistent that banks and private creditors holding Greek debt should accept losses as part of the rescue plan, in the face of domestic opposition to German taxpayers underwriting more of Greece's debt burden.

France, meanwhile, is reluctant to accept those terms as three major French banks are heavily exposed to Greek debt and risk considerable losses if it is restructured.

Similarly, the European Central bank is worried any changes in terms of the bailout deal will set a bad precedent for nations in similar financial straits such as Portugal, Ireland and Spain.

The EU's top financial official Olli Rehn has indicated Greece is likely to get its next financial lifeline in July, even though EU finance ministers have yet to agree on a new bailout package.

Downgraded debt

Three deputies have left Mr Papandreou's Socialist Party in as many days in protest against the five-year austerity package but, on Thursday, Mr Papandreou vowed to fight on.

"We will prevail and we will hold on. We have as a country in the past successfully faced major crises. As hard at this struggle is, we cannot run away from our fight," he said.

"We will fight and we will win, for Greece, its people and the future of the new generations."

A planned confidence vote on the new government could take place, at the earliest, on Sunday, which would also give the EU more time to finalise a package to help Greece.

On Wednesday, the country witnessed some of the most violent protests in more than a year, as tens of thousands of activists and unionists gathered in Syntagma square in Athens, near parliament, while a further 20,000 demonstrated in Thessaloniki.

The resignations of two deputies from Mr Papandreou's socialist Pasok party do not affect the party's five-seat parliamentary majority as the seats are automatically allocated to the next Socialists in line, but they are an indication of the difficulties Mr Papandreou faces in winning confidence in his leadership, says the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens.

President Karolos Papoulias has urged Greek politicians not to make matters worse by turning the economic crisis into a political one.

Assuming that some form of Greek government emerges out of the political discussions now under way in Athens, it is now almost certain that Greece will get the official money it needs to stay above water for a few more weeks, notably the next tranche of last year's EU-IMF bailout, says the BBC's economics editor, Stephanie Flanders.

All the eurozone ministers have to do is agree in principle to fill the funding gap in the Greek economic programme, which they will now do on Sunday, adds our correspondent.

Greece's debt was downgraded by Standard & Poor's ratings agency earlier this week, making it the lowest-rated of the countries it monitors.

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