Greek leftists in anti-bailout coalition bid

Head of Syriza bloc to meet leaders of main parties, but demands any deal must include rejection of austerity measures.

    President Karolos Papoulias, right, has given Alexis Tsipras, left, three days to form a coalition government [EPA]
    President Karolos Papoulias, right, has given Alexis Tsipras, left, three days to form a coalition government [EPA]

    The leader of a Greek leftist bloc opposed to the country's austerity measures is set to meet leaders of the debt-stricken country's main parties in the latest attempt to form a coalition government.

    Alexis Tsipras, whose Syriza bloc holds 52 seats in the Greek parliament, is demanding that any agreement to form a government would need all parties to agree to reject the country's EU/IMF bailout deal.


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    He said Greek voters had "clearly nullified the loan agreement" in Sunday's elections in which support collapsed for the country's two main parties, which had both backed austerity measures.

    Syriza came second on Sunday, while the centre-right New Democracy and centre-left PASOK, which between them had 77 per cent of the vote just three years ago, saw their combined share fall to just 32 per cent and PASOK reduced to third place.

    Both PASOK and New Democracy had backed the terms of a second EU/IMF deal agreed by Lucas Papademos, who was appointed last year to lead a coalition government tasked with rescuing the country from its debt crisis.

    In return for its two bailouts, worth a total of $310bn, Greece agreed to make deep cuts to pensions and pay, raise taxes and slash thousands of public sector jobs.

    The vote has left Athens in political disarray, with no clear path to form a government, the prospect of new elections within weeks and speculation escalating that Greece could be pushed out of Europe's single currency bloc.

    'Playing with fire'

    Tsipras' hopes of forming a coalition are considered remote after New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras on Tuesday rejected his demand to scrap the bailout, warning that such a move could drive the country out of the euro.

    "Mr. Tsipras asked me to put my signature to the destruction of Greece. I will not do this," Samaras said. "The country cannot afford to play with fire."


    300 seats

      KKE (Communist) 26 seats
      Syriza 52 seats
      Democratic Left 19 seats
      Pasok 41 seats
      New Democracy 108 seats
      Independent Greeks 33 seats
      Golden Dawn 21 seats

    Samaras was given the first chance to form a government but said on Monday his efforts to form a "national salvation" administration had failed.

    "I did whatever I could to secure a result but it was impossible," Samaras said in a televised address after a day of separate meetings with fellow leaders.

    On Tuesday Tsipras was given three days to try to form a government. He will meet PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Samaras separately on Wednesday afternoon.

    If no politician is able to form a majority in the 300-seat parliament, a new election would have to be held within weeks.

    Samaras may be hoping Greeks will give him a stronger mandate in a new vote.

    Most Greeks say they want to keep the euro currency - widely seen as impossible without the bailout - but they are furious with the two mainstream political parties they blame for the recession, record-high unemployment and endemic corruption.

    Many believe spending cuts demanded by the EU and IMF are only making the situation worse by increasing unemployment and preventing economic recovery.

    The country, in its fifth year of recession with unemployment at 20 per cent, is committed to finding another $15bn in savings over the next two years by June.

    Even with a system that gave first-placed New Democracy an extra 50 seats designed to make it easier to form stable governments, the conservatives and PASOK together fell narrowly short of a majority to renew their coalition, with only 149 seats between them.

    Other parties to make gains at the expense of the main parties included the far-right Golden Dawn with 21 seats, the right-wing Independent Greeks with 33 seats and the communist KKE with 26.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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