IMF head expresses regret about Greece comments

The International Monetary Fund's top official has expressed regrets for comments about Greeks' suffering during their debt crisis.

Managing Director Christine Lagarde told Britain's The Guardian last week she has more sympathy for poor African children than for Greeks who are struggling through economic problems and austerity measures. She suggested that Greeks could make things better if more people paid their taxes.

"''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," she said in the interview

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said Thursday that Lagarde told the IMF board this week that "she regrets that her remarks were misunderstood and caused offense."

He added that Lagarde and the IMF have "great respect for Greece and the people and the sacrifices that many are making to overcome the economic crisis."

Greece's economy is being kept afloat on international loans provided by the European Union and the IMF, along with a combination of cuts and higher taxes that are deeply unpopular with the public. The government that agreed to the loan and austerity package was voted out of office in May.

The new parties, which mainly campaigned on anti-austerity platforms, have not been able to form a government and new elections are scheduled for June 17. One of the most popular parties in Greece, the left-wing Syriza party, wants to abolish Greece's international bailout agreements, raising fears that Greece will leave the Eurozone and destabilize world markets.

Lagarde's comments were widely condemned in Greece and have become fodder in the election campaign.