Greece beats a key bailout target for 2016

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Greece far exceeded its worldwide lenders' budget demands last year, official data showed on Friday, posting its first overall budget surplus in 21 years even when debt repayments are included.

Greece has beaten a key bailout target for its public finances, but will still face some painful choices as it tries to negotiate with creditors how much more budget austerity it should impose on its people in coming years.

WASHINGTON, April 21 The International Monetary Fund praised on Friday Greece's fiscal over-performance a year ago but said it still needed clarification from euro zone governments on what debt relief Athens can expect before joining the latest Greek bailout.

ELSTAT data showed on Friday that the general government debt came to 314.8 billion euros, or 179 percent of GDP in 2016, up from 177.4 percent in 2015.

"It is more than eight times above target", he said in a statement, confirming what an official told Reuters earlier.

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Bailout inspectors from the International Monetary Fund and European Union institutions are expected to return to Athens next week to discuss how big future primary surplus levels should be and whether to further cut pensions and job protection rules. The two calculations differ in methodology, but it is the surplus attained according to the bailout rules that matters for assessing the course of the program.

Under the bailout programme, Greece had a primary surplus target of 0.5 percent of GDP.

The 2016 outperformance could lead the fund to revise some of its projections.

Athens hopes to discuss the fund's participation and its projections at the sidelines of the IMF's spring meetings in Washington.

The IMF and Greece's eurozone bailout creditors also remain at odds over surplus targets and the extent of debt relief promised to Athens. Greece has to achieve a primary surplus of 1.75% in 2017, 3.5% in 2018 and maintain it for the medium term.