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EU officials impatient over Greek bailout talks

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BRUSSELS — Top European officials voiced impatience about stalled negotiations between Greece and its bailout creditors Monday, saying the government in Athens must step up its efforts to meet agreed-upon reform and privatization targets.

Greece must reach an agreement with its international bailout creditors to get the next installment of its 240 billion euro ($328-billion) emergency loan package in order to avoid default in May, when it has to pay back bonds worth about 10 billion euros.

The negotiations between Greece and the so-called troika of creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission — are months behind schedule amid disagreements over cost-cutting measures and reforms.

"We call on Greece and the troika to do the utmost to conclude the negotiations," said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem. There is "far too little" progress, he insisted.

The Eurogroup of finance ministers, which Dijsselbloem chairs, won't approve paying out the next bailout loans unless there is a final agreement with the troika, he warned.

Dijsselbloem spoke after a meeting in Brussels where the creditors briefed the officials on the outstanding issues with Greece, including what he called a fiscal gap in this year's budget and a lack of implementation of structural reforms.

"Progress is being made, but were not yet there," said the EU's top economic official, Commissioner Olli Rehn.

For the past four years, Greece has been relying on emergency loans after years of fiscal mismanagement left it with a mountain of debt and gaping budget deficit. In return, successive governments have had to slash salaries and pensions, raise taxes and sell off assets to reduce debt and make the economy competitive.

However, Greece is still struggling to emerge from a six-year-old recession that saw its gross domestic product fall by almost a quarter. Unemployment has risen steadily and stands at about 27 percent.

As they headed into the meeting in Brussels, ministers from other eurozone nations suggested their patience is wearing thin as the latest negotiations with Greece keep dragging on.

"Greece must continue its successful trajectory, but further efforts are needed," said German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. "Greece must stay its reform course."

Autria's Michael Spindelegger also acknowledged that Greece had made significant progress, but added that eurozone finance ministers are "indeed concerned regarding far-reaching reforms and the privatization program."

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