Antonis Samaras sworn in as head of three-party coalition government

 

Athens

Greece got its first elected prime minister for eight months yesterday as the conservative leader Antonis Samaras was sworn in at the head of a coalition government.

The three-party deal ended six weeks of rudderless chaos in Athens that has threatened to push the country out of the single currency and deepen Europe's financial crisis.

Mr Samaras's New Democracy party, which won nearly 30 per cent of the vote last Sunday, will be joined by the socialists of Pasok and the Democratic Left, a smaller, newer party whose presence is thought vital to broadening the government's support.

The 61-year-old, whose insistence on elections in May left the country in political limbo, vowed to "work hard so that we can offer tangible hope to our people".

The line-up of the new cabinet was being agreed last night but the extended coalition talks mean that Greece will be represented by George Zanias, the Finance Minister of the previous government, at a vital meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Luxembourg today.

The Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos said the talks will be "the first big battle" on the revision of the bailout agreement. The new government will be seeking concessions from its northern European creditors as it looks to shore up its support ahead of a fresh round of austerity measures.

Sunday's narrow vote in favour of parties that believe the country should honour the agreements under which it has received billions of pounds of emergency loans, came after concerted international pressure. The opponents of the austerity programme, like the radical left coalition Syriza, have vowed to fight the new administration inside and outside parliament. Greece's escalating economic crisis has seen unemployment reach 22 per cent while the economy is projected to contract by 7 per cent this year.

Despite its 29-seat majority, the new government is not expected to last a full term. Dominated by the two traditional ruling parties, its main claim to a broad mandate comes from the presence of the Democratic Left, which remains ambivalent about adhering to the terms of Greece's €173bn (£140bn) bailout. The party's leader Fotis Kouvelis has vowed to gradually withdraw from the worst parts of Greece's debt deal and called yesterday for the lifting of "those measures that have literally bled society".

Sources close to the Greek government said that it will be seeking more time to meet its bailout targets, development assistance and a faster release of funds from its creditors.

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