UPDATE 1-IMF delegation heading to Tunisia to start loan talks -central bank

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By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, July 1 (Reuters) - A delegation from the International Monetary Fund will visit Tunisia on Monday to start negotiations over a loan programme, a central bank official told Reuters on Friday.

This follows the completion of technical talks between the IMF and Tunisia, said Zied Mouhli, a central bank spokesperson.

Tunisia, which is facing a financial crisis, is seeking to reach a loan deal in return for an unpopular reform package to shore up its struggling public finances.

The IMF last week welcomed economic reforms proposed by the Tunisian government and said it was ready to start negotiations in coming weeks.

"The reform programme announced by the government achieves several benefits, such as increasing credibility, making the chances of success greater than in the past," Jihad Azour, director of the fund's Middle East and Central Asia Department said last week.

"After months of technical discussions with Tunisian authorities, the IMF is ready to start negotiations on the program in the coming weeks," he added.

Tunisia's reform plan includes freezing wages, stopping public sector recruitment, cutting energy and food subsidies, and selling shares in state companies.

The powerful UGTT Labor Union, with about 1 million members, strongly opposes the proposed programme and launched a national strike last month in public companies. It said it plans to repeat the action. (Reporting by Tarek Amsara; Editing by Richard Chang)

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