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Greece: Deputy minister quits over debt talks

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras looks during debate new government's policy agendbefore staging vote confidence  parliament Athens late Sunday

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras looks on during a debate on the new government's policy agenda before staging a vote of confidence at the parliament in Athens, late Sunday July 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

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ATHENS, Greece — A deputy labor minister resigned on Monday from Greece’s new coalition government, saying it should have pressed harder to renegotiate the terms of the country’s bailout agreements.

Nikos Nikolopoulos announced his resignation hours after the new conservative-led government won a confidence vote in parliament.

In a letter, Nikolopoulos argued that the government should have taken a tougher line with international debt inspectors in Athens last week to “correct serious distortions in the labor, pension and benefit systems.”

Known as the troika, the inspectors from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, have carried out frequent visits to Greece to check on the state of its struggling public finances.

Nikolopoulos was considered a close ally of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who named a replacement shortly after the resignation was announced — U.S.-trained economist Nikos Panagiotopoulos.

Greece, in its fifth year of recession, has been surviving on international rescue loans for more than two years. The conservatives won June 17 elections on a campaign pledge to improve the terms of austerity measures demanded by creditors.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the government was puzzled by the resignation.

“There is no logical explanation. Mr. Nikolopoulos had no time to argue with his minister. And negotiations with the troika haven’t even started,” Kedikoglou said.

“Yesterday, he backed the government in a vote of confidence. In the end, not everyone is cut out for tough jobs.”

Since winning the election, Samaras has been plagued by Cabinet problems, replacing his finance minister due to illness, losing a deputy merchant marine minister over a business conflict of interest, and finding himself forced to cut down his schedule after eye surgery for a detached retina.

Backed by the traditional rival Socialists and the small Democratic Left party, the government late Sunday won the confidence vote in parliament required for it to formally begin its four-year term, with votes from 179 coalition party lawmakers in the 300-member assembly.

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