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Greek MPs vote to demand German war reparations

Greek parliament speaker Nikos Voutsis (pictured October 2015) said the demands for German war crime reparations "are always active"

Greek lawmakers on Wednesday voted through a resolution demanding the payment of German war crime reparations, an issue long disputed by Berlin.

A parliamentary committee last year determined that Germany owes Greece at least 270 billion euros ($305 billion) for World War I damages and looting, atrocities and a forced loan during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

"These demands are always active. They were never set aside by Greece," parliament speaker Nikos Voutsis told reporters this week.

With cross-party support, the chamber approved the resolution to call on the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras "to take all the necessary diplomatic and legal steps to claim and fully satisfy all the demands of the Greek state stemming from World War I and World War II."

Speaking in parliament, Tsipras said that making the demand "is a historic and moral duty and a duty in memory of the heroes of the past ... above all at a time when the extreme right, nationalism and racism threaten Europe."

He said Athens would now send a "verbal note" to Germany which "will allow the opening of a dialogue on this question".

Reclaiming war reparations has been a campaign pledge by Tsipras since 2015. He faces multiple electoral challenges this year, with his party trailing in opinion polls.

During a visit to Greece in January, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country "recognised its historical responsibility".

"We know how much suffering we, as Germany in the time of Nazism, have brought to Greece," she said.

In 2014, the then president Joachim Gauck sought public forgiveness in the name of Germany from relatives of those murdered by the Nazis in the mountains of northern Greece.

But when it comes to actual payments, Berlin has always insisted that the issue was settled in 1960 in a deal with several European governments.

Germany's government spokesman Steffen Seibert reiterated Wednesday that "the reparation issue is judicially and politically settled".

He said Berlin is doing "everything it can so Greece and Germany maintain good relations as friends and partners".

During the Greek economic crisis, there was further tension in Athens over draconian EU austerity and bailout terms seen to be imposed by Berlin hardliners.

Relations have improved over the last three years after Tsipras' government endorsed conditions linked to satisfying its creditors to exit the bailout programmes.

Tsipras, who insisted it would be "repugnant" to conflate the issue of war reparations and Greek debts, and Merkel have also worked closely on finding common ground on migration and Balkans security.