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Argentina says creditors filed $7-8 billion more claims in debt battle

Argentina's Economy Minister Axel Kicillof is seen after a meeting with Brazil's Chief Staff Aloizio Mercadante (not seen) at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia November 27, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's economy minister said on Tuesday "me-too" investors who want compensation for debt owed since the country's 2002 default have lodged claims for between $7 billion (4.5 billion pounds) and $8 billion in the hope of gaining from its legal battle with other holdouts.

A U.S. judge ordered Argentina in 2012 to pay a group of hedge funds that did not participate in its 2005 and 2010 debt restructuring, including Elliott Management Corp's NML Capital Ltd and Aurelius Capital Management, $1.33 billion plus interest.

Argentina refused to pay, calling the creditors "vulture funds" for seeking to pick clean the carcass of Latin America's third-largest economy after its devastating 2002 default on $100 billion in debt.

The country now says it wants to reach a deal, after its legal battle with the holdouts pushed it into default on its restructured debt in July. But it wants to settle claims from all creditors who refused the swaps at the same time.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in New York said he would deal with "me too" claims filed by March 2 on the same schedule as those of the hedge funds.

"Those who presented new claims to Griesa worth $7 or $8 billion are also vultures," Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said in a radio interview on Tuesday.

Separately, Kicillof criticised Griesa for preventing Argentina's payment of interest on restructured bonds under Argentine law, ahead of a hearing later on Tuesday in New York on whether Citigroup Inc can process such payments.

In November, Griesa put off a determinative ruling while allowing the bank temporarily to process payments.

"Argentine legislation makes clear that bonds under Argentine law are a question of Argentina," the minister told state broadcaster Radio Nacional.

"Griesa is trying to extend his arm further than it actually reaches. ... (He) has created a legal mess that is very difficult to solve."

Citigroup has said it faces regulatory and criminal sanctions by Argentina if it cannot process the interest payment on U.S. dollar-denominated bonds issued under Argentine law.

BNP Paribas said in a research note on Tuesday that if the court decides to define "external" debt as any dollar-denominated bond, rather than a foreign law instrument, "there will be negative implications, as this would put any new issuance by the government at risk."

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Eliana Raszewski; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)