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FRANCE - GREeCE

Valls visits Greece to back Tsipras on austerity, migrants

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis

Despite strikes and floods at home, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was due in Athens on Thursday afternoon to assure the Greek government of France's support for its efforts to reduce Greece's debt and promise to take in more of the refugees arriving on Greek soil.

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Valls has put off a visit to Canada later this month because of ongoing labour protests in France but he kept the Greece trip in his diary.

He was due to dine with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday evening and then meet him for a discussion on Friday morning before attending a meeting of Greek ministers along with Finance Minister Michel Sapin and European Affairs Minister Harlem Désir.

France to take more migrants

On Thursday, before Valls left, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that France would take 400 refugees every month as part of the European agreement to relieve the pressure on Greece and Italy of the thousands of migrants, many of them fleeing the conflict in Syria, arriving on their soil.

This week 97 have arrived and another 253 are expected to arrive from Greece next week, a statement said.

That is a lot more than in January when France took in 19 Eritreans and just 272 people were relocated in various European Union countries.

France has also offered to provide 300 people to work with the Frontex border agency and the European asylum authority and 200 have already started working in Greece, Valls told Kathimerini newspaper.

Finance for Greece unblocked

Some 10.3 billion euros were unblocked in an agreement between Greece and its creditors last week and European finance ministers agreed to debt relief but not until 2018 and on condition that Tsipras's government carries on with austerity measures that have already hit many Greek people hard.

The money should go to paying off debts to the IMF and the European Central bank.

But the IMF continues to express doubt that Athens will be able to keep up the payments, while Germany opposes any loosening of conditions.

Valls, whose own government faces accusations of being too right-wing by trade unions and left-wingers fighting its labour reform, is to tell Tsipras, whose Syriza party is nominally more left-wing than France's ruling Socialists, that he is doing the right thing in sticking to austerity measures.

France, which played a major role in bringing the Greek leaders round to accepting policies imposed by the European Union and the IMF, is advising Athens on reforming its state bureaucracy and its tax system and "we are encouraging more French companies to think about investment" in Greece, the prime minister told Kathimerini.

Greece is to receive 700 million euros in humanitarian aid, he stressed.

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