Greece pleads for help from sceptical Europe

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged Germany and France at a summit Thursday to help him tackle a looming cash crunch, despite warnings that Athens must commit to reforms first.

The radical left-wing Greek leader sat down for emergency talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Francois Hollande and the EU's top officials on the sidelines of a European summit in Brussels.

He said Greece faced a "humanitarian crisis" if its creditors do not unlock the remaining funds in its EU-IMF bailout, with Athens at risk of running out of money by the end of the week.

But mounting fears of a Greek exit from the euro have failed to stop Brussels insisting that Greece's new government must meet its reform pledges before it gets any cash.

European alarm and frustration mounted after the Greek parliament adopted a crisis bill aimed at helping the poor on Wednesday.

"At the summit, Alexis Tsipras said it was contradictory that Europe accepts that there is a humanitarian crisis in Greece, while at the same time accusing Greece of unilateral action when it votes for measures to deal with it," a government statement out of Athens said.

Tsipras accused Greece's creditors in the EU, IMF and ECB of "holding up red cards", saying this was "holding back progress" on completing Greece's 240-billion-euro (S$370 billion) bailout by June as agreed last month.

Greece was not formally on the agenda of the full meeting of the 28 EU leaders but Tsipras was allowed to speak briefly, ahead of the sideline talks.

The separate Greece meeting was also attended by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the euro single currency group.

A European source said the meeting would probably produce an agreement to clarify the terms of the bailout.

Time is running out for Athens as Friday brings a key debt deadline when Greece must pay 300 million euros to the IMF and redeem 1.6 billion euros in treasury bills.

Athens says Brussels is unfairly holding back the last seven-billion-euro tranche of its $240-billion-euro bailout.

Merkel, the powerful leader of Europe's biggest economy, said as she arrived at the summit that Greece should not get its hopes up for an immediate solution on Thursday.

"I would like to say, do not expect any solution, do not expect a breakthrough," said Merkel, who is also due to meet Tsipras in Berlin on Monday.

Dijsselbloem played down hopes of a deal, saying that it was to assess progress "which appears small".

Hollande meanwhile urged the Greek government to "show they will carry out reforms." The Greek crisis has opened both new and historic tensions in the 28-nation EU, which when taken together has a population of 500 million and is the world's largest economy.

Greece has angered Berlin by demanding World War II reparations, but Germany's minister for European affairs paved the way to a compromise Thursday by saying Berlin may increase its contribution to a German-Greek fund.

Meanwhile Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg complained to EU President Donald Tusk that they had been frozen out of the mini-summit. "I am angry," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz also said he should have been involved, dismissing the meeting as a "flash mob".

The EU leaders also agreed that sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis should last until the end of the year.