International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said she was sensitive to the plight facing Greece, while reiterating that the wealthy must pay their fair share of taxes.
The comments, posted on Facebook, came a day after Lagarde said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper that children in Africa needed more help than the Greeks and that many in the country were “trying to escape tax all the time.” The posting generated more than 8,300 comments, including hundreds written in the Greek language.
“As I have said many times before, I am very sympathetic to the Greek people and the challenges they are facing,” Lagarde wrote on the social networking site. “That’s why the IMF is supporting Greece in its endeavor to overcome the current crisis and return to the path of economic growth, jobs and stability. An important part of this effort is that everyone should carry their fair share of the burden, especially the most privileged and especially in terms of paying their taxes.”
The prospect of Greece leaving the 17-nation euro region increased after parties opposed to the terms of the nation’s second bailout by the European Union and the IMF won most of the votes in May 6 elections. A fresh round of voting will be held June 17. The once-taboo issue of a Greek withdrawal from the 17- nation currency union entered into public debate this month, even as EU forecasts showed the country’s economy will contract by a further 4.7 percent in 2013.
Lagarde, who was finance minister under the ousted conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, also came under attack from the spokeswoman of the country’s new Socialist government, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.
“I think the comments were simplistic and stereotypical,” Vallaud-Belkacem said in an interview on Canal-Plus television today. “It’s not a time to be giving lessons. It’s not like this we will solve the crisis.”
The response to Lagarde’s Facebook page came from across Europe, and expressed a variety of views. Some were unprintable attacks on Lagarde, while others reproduced Greek poems about the country’s revival from past sufferings. A few accused Germany of benefiting from Greece’s predicament. One Greek man said the country will honor its debts and asked fellow European to ignore the “mob” posting comments on Lagarde’s page.
“The last thing we in Greece seek is her compassion,” Alexis Tsipras, head of the Syriza movement that wants to renegotiate the terms of Greek aid, said in an e-mailed statement today. “Greek workers pay their heavy taxes. When it comes to tax evasion she should speak” to Pasok and New Democracy, which led previous administrations, he said.
In the interview with the U.K.’s Guardian, Lagarde said Greek parents have to take responsibility if their children are being affected by spending cuts and “pay their tax.”
“I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I think they need even more help” than people in Greece, she said.
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