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IMF begins mission to debt stricken Greece

ATHENS, Jan 13 – A team of International Monetary Fund experts embarked on Wednesday on a week-long mission to help debt-stricken Greece overcome its financial crisis, the finance ministry said.

"The mission has arrived and will start the day by meeting Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou," a ministry source told AFP.

"The team consists of five IMF officials who will spend a week here."

The IMF said earlier it had been invited by Greek authorities to "explore possibilities for technical assistance from the IMF in the coming months on pension reform, tax policy, tax administration, and budget management."

"The mission is within the context of the regular surveillance that the IMF provides to its membership," it said.

Greek officials have repeatedly stressed that the country does not intend to request an IMF loan.

Greece, which is mired in recession, has a public spending deficit that rose to 12.7 percent of output last year, far above the 3.0 percent ceiling permitted to countries sharing the euro currency.

It is also saddled with a debt constituting 113 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The recently elected Socialist government, which must present its crisis plans to the European Commission by the end of the month, has said it will cut the deficit to 8.7 percent in 2010 by slashing spending and fighting tax fraud.

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It aims to bring the deficit to below 3.0 percent of GDP, the limit imposed by the eurozone, in 2012.

European officials have criticised Athens for its failure to control its finances and the three main credit rating agencies have all downgraded the country\’s sovereign debt standing.

The European Commission this week published a damning report on Greece\’s "unreliable" economic figures, increasing the chances of the EU executive launching infringement proceedings against Athens.

The report on Greek government deficit and debt statistics highlights the general "lack of quality of the Greek fiscal statistics" and "failures of the relevant Greek institutions in a broad sense."

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