Greece says its recession is deepening and will present "alarming" information about the state of the country's economy this week to international auditors in a new effort to ease the terms of the government's latest bailout.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou described the economic data as "astounding" in a television interview Tuesday, but gave no details. He said the information "shows beyond any doubt" that the austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors are hurting the country's economy rather than helping it.
Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said the Greek economy, in its fifth year of a recession, would contract 6.7 percent this year compared to a previous forecast of 4.5 percent. At last count, in March, more than one of every five Greek workers was unemployed.
Debt inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are set later this week to take a new look at the precarious state of the government's finances.
Also Tuesday, officials in Cyprus said they have started talks with the European Union, the European Central bank and the International Monetary Fund to estimate the size of an international loan needed to shore up Cyprus's banks. The island nation's economy and its banks have suffered from exposure to Greek debt.
Cyprus is the fifth euro zone country to seek financial aid from the common currency union, after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the 17-member group, at more than 24 percent.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Tuesday that the country's debt burden has become "crushing." He told French National Assembly that the state pays more than $60 billion a year to its creditors.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the region's debt crisis with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in Rome Tuesday. Germany is Europe's strongest economy and carries most of the loan burden.
International auditors are in Athens to check on the limited progress the government has made in imposing spending cuts it agreed to earlier this year when it secured a new $168-billion bailout. It was the country's second rescue package in two years.
But even before the auditors take a look at the government's financial ledgers, political leaders in Greece's new coalition government are calling for at least a two-year extension to the 2014 mandate for the government to produce a budget surplus. But one European Central Bank official on Monday said Greece should not waste time seeking to ease the terms of the bailout and instead should push to carry out the austerity spending plan calling for pension and wage cuts and elimination of thousands of government jobs.
On Tuesday, a European Commission official, Horst Reichenbach, said Greece needs to start paying back the more than $7 billion it owes to suppliers, such as pharmaceutical and construction companies, to pump more money into the country's beleaguered economy.
"It would be very difficult to really improve the situation of the Greek economy, even with these reforms, if the very difficult situation of access to finance is not tackled," he said. "And here, the first step is to pay the arrears which have accumulated and obviously also the [valued-added tax] contributions, which, in particular for the export industry, are accumulating and raising difficulties."
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.