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Minister: Greek bailout talks format still being negotiated

An elderly woman shops meat at Varvakios market in Athens, Saturday, July 25, 2015. Greece on Friday invited the International Monetary Fund to participate in its negotiations with European creditors over a vital third bailout. The talks are expected to start next week after a few days' delay and must conclude before Greece faces another big repayment Aug. 20. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece and rescue lenders are still working out the format of upcoming talks, the labor minister said Sunday, confirming a delay in the negotiations for a third international bailout.

Giorgos Katrougalos told private Skai television Sunday that pre-negotiation discussions were still ongoing.

“The way the negotiations will take place is still being discussed within the government,” Katrougalos said.

Bailout negotiators from the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund had been due to start arriving in Athens last Friday to start talks for the new rescue package worth an expected 85 billion euros ($93 billion).

But late Saturday, a government official said talks at a “technical level” were now set to start on Tuesday. The official asked not to be named because the negotiations were ongoing.

Katrougalos said Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and other Cabinet colleagues were likely to meet directly with the inspectors — a move that had been previously ruled out by the country’s left-wing government.

“At the point we have reached, we are obliged to negotiate … Faced with the prospect of financial collapse, we were forced to compromise,” he said.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, elected six months ago on an anti-bailout platform, had promised to end austerity measures and stop direct talks in Athens between ministers and debt inspectors.

But the government was forced to reach a compromise after banks and the stock market were closed late last month, as deposits ran dangerously low.

Banks have since reopened but strict limits on money withdrawal and other transactions remain in effect.

Tsipras’ government has already begun imposing new austerity measures demanded in return for the new bailout — but had relied on support from opposition parties after nearly a quarter of lawmakers in the ruling Syriza party opposed him.

The new agreement must be reached before Aug. 20 when Greece faces a debt repayment to the ECB worth more than 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion).

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