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Germans say euro zone may have to expel Greece: poll

By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) - A majority of Germans want debt-ridden Greece to be thrown out of the euro zone if necessary and more than two-thirds oppose handing Athens billions of euros in credit, a poll published on Sunday showed.

Vocal opposition to aid for Greece from members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition also grew at the weekend with several senior politicians expressing skepticism, especially as Germany's own recovery is fragile.

The Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper showed 53 percent of Germans asked said the European Union should, if necessary, expel Greece from the euro zone.

Athens has struggled to convince investors it is tackling its debt crisis and markets are nervous about a default.

EU leaders discussed the issue last week and offered words of support but failed to outline concrete steps, further unsettling markets. Euro zone finance ministers are expected to discuss Greece again on Monday and Tuesday.

Merkel has adopted a cautious stance on support, saying while Greece will not be left on its own, it is up to Athens to sort out its own problems.

The poll also showed 67 percent of Germans did not want Germany and other EU states to give billions of euros in credit to Greece.

"If we start now, where do we stop?" Michael Fuchs, deputy head of Merkel's conservatives in parliament, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"I can't explain to people on unemployment benefit that they won't get a cent more but Greeks can draw a pension at 63."

In her first term, Merkel raised Germany's retirement age to 67 from 65 in an effort to rein in the deficit to meet EU goals.

RESISTANCE GROWING?

Merkel's coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are even more resistant to helping Greece.

"Solving this problem cannot be about aid for Greece," FDP budget expert Otto Fricke told Welt am Sonntag. "If anything, it's about keeping any damage away from German tax payers."

Germany suffered its sharpest post-war recession last year and the upturn in Europe's biggest economy stalled in the fourth quarter, data showed on Friday.

Such data fuels economists' warnings about helping Greece.

Former European Central Bank chief economist Otmar Issing, who has played a leading role in advising Berlin during the credit crisis, said financial support for Greece from euro zone countries would be misguided.

"That is the way to the whole building subsiding," Issing told Welt am Sonntag, adding Greece had to take further steps itself, pointing in particular to the generous pension system.

Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff even warned Germany could face similar problems to Greece.

"Germany's public finances are not on a sustainable path," Rogoff told Welt am Sonntag. "There will come a time when Germany will have its own Greece problem ... it won't be as bad as in Greece, but it will be painful," said Rogoff.

Germany's budget deficit is forecast to grow to 5.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 and Merkel has vowed to consolidate the deficit as soon as the recovery allows.

However Rogoff, a former International Monetary Fund chief economist, said helping Greece was unavoidable.

"As long as Germany isn't ready to kick Greece out of the euro zone, it must help," said Rogoff who also said an option would be for the Greek government to secure bridging credit.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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