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Serbia gets green light for wage hikes, promises asset sales

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10/30/2016 | 06:35am EDT
The International Monetary Fund logo is seen inside its headquarters at the end of the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Washington

BELGRADE (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund agreed to Serbia's plans for public-sector wage and pension increases next year, the country's prime minister said on Sunday.

Speaking at a briefing after an IMF delegation reviewed its 1.2 billion-euro loan to Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic also promised to do everything possible to find a buyer for a heavily indebted state copper mine.

Vucic said the IMF had agreed to plans to raise wages for public-sector workers by 5 to 7 percent next year and to increase pensions.

"We had long and difficult talks with IMF," he said. "They are always cautious, but I think we have achieved great results that can make us proud." Serbia's growth and inflation figures have come in better than expected over the past year.

But the fate of Serbia's debt-ridden state enterprises remains a sticking point. The IMF insists that they be made to turn a profit or be sold or shut down - which would be a blow for thousands of employees.

"We will not allow RTB Bor to collapse," Vucic said of the totemic state copper mine. "I will beg the Chinese; I am capable of kneeling before Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang for that," Vucic said after promising a solution "within six months".

The IMF had also agreed to a one-off payment to pensioners this year, he added. With presidential elections due next year, Vucic's pro-European government is keen to deliver on promised wage and pension increases after years of painful austerity.

The one-time payment would "make people happy during upcoming holidays," he said.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, writing by Thomas Escritt, editing by Larry King)

Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
LME COPPER CASH 0.43% 5751 End-of-day quote.-1.51%
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