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IMF Chief Lagarde Pulls No Punches With Greece, Greeks Punch Back

LE MONDE (France) THE GUARDIAN (United Kingdom)

PARIS - It may be a sign that the euro zone crisis is reaching a new low when political leaders say out loud what they share behind closed doors. The typically careful managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, has let loose with some plain talk about what has led debt-riddled Greece -- and therefore the rest of Europe (and the world) -- into such a dire financial situation.

Here is what she said in an interview published in British daily The Guardian on Friday: 

"Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax."

She also said she thought more about 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," because, according to her, "they need even more help than the people in Athens." 

French daily Le Monde reports that Greek politicians were quick to address her comments. Socialist Party leader Evangelos Venizélos said she had "humiliated" the Greek people.

Social media users were also very critical of the former French Finance Minister.

But the fallout even extended to other countries in Europe, including Lagarde's native France. The spokesperson for newly-elected François Hollande's Socialist government called her comments "caricatural." Even Laurence Parisot, head of the largest employer's union in France, said that what Greece needed was help, not more humiliation. The Guardian followed up on the issue in an editorial, calling her "partly responsible" for the banking crisis and criticizing her role as France's finance minister. 

For her part, Lagarde posted a statement on her Facebook page, which has since garnered more 20,000 comments. She expressed her sympathy for the Greek people, and said "everyone should carry their fair share of the burden, especially the most privileged and especially in terms of paying their taxes." 

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