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Merkel, Hollande and Tsipras meet in Riga to give push to debt talks | Reuters

 Merkel, Hollande and Tsipras meet in Riga to give push to debt talks
| Reuters

RIGA German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande held talks late on Thursday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, hoping to speed the resolution of Athens' debt crisis on the sidelines of an EU summit in Riga.

Since its election, Tsipras's left-wing government has held four months of talks with the EU and International Monetary Fund, seeking a deal that could release up to 7.2 billion euros ($8.1 billion) in funds, but talks have stumbled over pension, labour reform, fiscal targets and increases in value-added tax.

"We are not going to negotiate the Greek question in Riga but it's true that this allows us to prepare for the upcoming deadline, notably the Eurogroup meeting at the end of the month or at the start of June," Hollande told reporters on arrival.

"We want to find solutions with Mr. Tsipras which allow us to instil confidence and to free up the funds that had been foreseen. It will be a friendly discussion, but a discussion where we must sketch out solutions," he said.

However, he said France and Germany would not take decisions for the rest of the European Union.

"We are working to facilitate matters and at the same time transmit a certain number of messages useful to Greece and useful to Europe," he said.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has told Reuters the Greek government's optimism about clinching a cash-for-reforms deal with its lenders within days is not backed up by the negotiations, and he cannot rule out Greece becoming insolvent.

A Greek government official said Tsipras would brief Merkel and Hollande on talks between technical teams from Greece and its international lenders and would raise the issue of liquidity as well as ways to bridge a funding gap.

Athens does not expect Thursday's meeting to lead to a deal but it hopes for a timetable to speed up negotiations.

"There is momentum for a solution, a mid-term solution," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The official said Greece had not requested an emergency Eurogroup, but still hoped for a meeting of euro zone finance ministers by the end of May.

Athens and its lenders remain at odds over VAT hikes. Lenders have been asking for 23 percent for the high category and 11 percent for the low, while Athens instead proposes three VAT categories of 22, 14 and 7 percent, the official said.

Following a German newspaper report that euro zone countries were considering extending the bailout over the summer, the official said neither Athens nor creditors had raised the issue. "If it is brought up as an issue, we could look into it," the official said.

Labour Minister Panos Skourletis has pointed to June 5 - when Greece's next loan payment to the IMF falls due - as the next crunch point for the cash-strapped country. But the official said Greece aimed for a deal by then.

(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Riga and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Editing by Michael Nienaber and Alastair Macdonald)

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Updated Date: May 22, 2015 03:01:21 IST