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Moody's: Greek Debt Default Risk 'Remains High'

Peter Cobus

The Moody's credit rating company says the risk of Greece defaulting on its loans "remains high," even after European leaders approved a new financial rescue for the country.

The financial services firm Monday called the $172 billion Greek rescue package, the country's second in two years, "an important step forward."  But Moody's said Greece's debt will "remain large" for years, even as large private creditors have agreed to eliminate more than half the debt the country owes them, a $142 billion reduction.

Moody's said the Athens government is unlikely to be able to secure new loans on its own in world financial markets when the bailout money runs out in the next few years.

Moody's bleak assessment came as Germany's parliament easily approved the bailout.  The move came as surveys in the country showed that Germans overwhelmingly oppose further assistance for Greece.  Germany's largest newspaper, Bild, ran a front-page headline saying "Stop!" and urged lawmakers to vote against the Greek bailout.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers that rejecting it could cause unforeseen problems for Europe and the global economy.

"Nobody can say what the consequence of a denial of a second bail-out program for Greece will have for the other countries of the program like Portugal and Ireland, maybe even Spain and Italy, eventually to the euro zone as a whole and then the entire world," she said.

On Sunday, finance ministers from the world's 20 leading economies said the European Union must commit more money to a fund aimed at containing the eurozone debt crisis before other nations will provide additional resources to the International Monetary Fund.  European governments have already established a $672 billion rescue fund for future financial emergencies that is set to take effect in July, but G20 countries are pressing Europe to combine that with money remaining in a temporary fund to create a $1 trillion account.

After a two-day meeting in Mexico City, the G20 issued a statement saying that while recent signs point to a "modest global recovery," high risks remain.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said none of the G20 countries argued with the necessity of expanding the IMF financial firewall.  The Washington-based agency is seeking a $500 billion fund to go along with a "properly sized" commitment from Europe. "They all expect that the eurozone, the euro area rather, will strengthen, consolidate, reinforce its firewall and make sure that it is both adequate and credible before they look at increasing the firepower of the (IMF) fund," she said.

European countries have pledged nearly $200 billion to the IMF, but so far other countries have been reluctant to contribute more money unless Europe bolsters its own rescue fund.  The 17 countries that use the euro currency are set to discuss the "strength" of their bailout resources next month.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said G20 ministers are encouraged about the progress Europe has made in the past few months, but that rescue funds are not the only solution to the crisis. "A durable solution requires both a sustained period of economic reform and a substantial financial firewall to support those reforms.  European policy makers recognize the magnitude of the challenges ahead and they will be reviewing additional steps in the weeks ahead," he said.

Following the G20 meeting, European economic minister Olli Rehn praised what he called a "clear roadmap" and said he was confident of a positive conclusion.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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