Antonis Samaras, the newly elected Greek prime minister, has asked creditors for more time for a tough bailout programme, to ease the pain on an economy struggling in its fifth year of recession.
"We ask for the adjustment to be reached not in two years but later," he told parliament on Friday as he presented targets for the next four years.
Samaras said his government would strive to correct past mistakes and make up for lost time while ensuring the country's membership in the 17-nation eurozone.
In exchange for extending a 2014 deadline to meet strict deficit benchmarks, Samaras promised that his newly elected government would meet all other commitments which lenders have demanded.
"Our problem is not adopting reforms, which we will do without question. It is not reaching an objective, which we will meet. But it is finding an end to the recession," he said.
Samaras spoke as auditors from the European Union and International Monetary Fund have been checking government books to see if Greece has met pledges made in return for its latest 130-billion-euro bailout.
Greece must win the confidence of the auditors to obtain the next slice of aid money which it needs to pay current expenditure.
Samaras stressed that the "the goal of the government is to guarantee the place of Greece in the eurozone against those who want to undermine it”.
He also promised the "closure or merger of several state entities" this year and faster privatisation, including of the national railway company.
He also repeated a warning made on Thursday by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras that Greece's recovery programme was "off-track" after two election campaigns in two months.
"We will do everything to change what needs to be changed, fight against recession so that the country meets its targets ... while reinforcing our country in the heart of the euro and the European Union," Samaras said.
Greek ministers have been instructed to co-operate with the EU-IMF inspectors, who began their audit earlier this week, and refrain from asking for outright renegotiation requests.
Greece said it will seek on Tuesday to raise 1.25 billion euros in six-month treasury bills. Until the EU and IMF release more funds, the Greek government needs all the money it can find.
Samaras, 61, took office after June 17 elections, promising an austerity-weary nation that he would re-examine salary cuts, tax rises and job losses.
Greece was rescued in May 2010 and late last year agreed another accord which included a big write-off of debt owed to private investors.
The EU-IMF audit is expected to last weeks and actual negotiations with creditors are set to begin only at the end of the month.
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|William A. Cook|