Lucas Papademos sworn in as new Greek PM

 

Technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos took office today to save Greece from bankruptcy, heading a coalition cabinet filled with many of the same politicians who led the nation into crisis and pushed the eurozone to the brink of collapse.

At a colourful swearing-in ceremony, black-robed Orthodox priests, led by the Archbishop of Athens, blessed Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, and a cabinet dominated by the two main parties which had bickered for four days before agreeing on the crisis coalition.

"With the unity of all people, we will succeed," Papademos told George Papandreou, who led the previous Socialist administration that fell apart last week.

Apart from Papademos, who has no political experience, the main new face in the cabinet is a minister from the LAOS party - the first time the far right has entered a Greek government since the country returned to democracy in 1974 following years of military rule.

The line-up includes Socialist party power broker Evangelos Venizelos, who keeps the post of finance minister that he held in Papandreou's government.

Analysts said Papademos - a quiet academic economist - had to assert his authority over a cabinet packed with the hardened conservative and Socialist party politicians who took turns in power for decades as Greece built up a huge debt that it could not manage, forcing an international bailout.

"Greece has a government that is the result of political compromise among three parties. It is obvious that there was a dealing of the cards," said Costas Panagopoulos, head of ALCO pollsters.

"It all now depends on how the prime minister handles them."

The interim government of national unity, which has a bumper 48 ministers and their deputies, has a clear mandate that may not be so simple to implement before it calls elections some time early next year.

It has to push through parliament Greece's second bailout deal in as many years, not only to get hold of the 130 billion euros of longer term funding it promises.

Greece also needs money fast from its IMF and EU lenders to meet hefty debt repayments due in December - or face default, bankruptcy and the danger of leaving the euro zone.

The European Union has said Greece will not get the latest 8 billion installment of the original bailout to fund December's repayments unless Athens signs up to the new deal, agreed at a eurozone summit last month.

A source from the so-called "troika" of the EU, the IMF and the ECB said inspectors would visit Athens early next week to speak with the new government and would clear the next tranche only when it pledged to meet its commitments.

Both the Socialist PASOK and the conservative New Democracy parties say they will vote for the new bailout in parliament.

However, the package demands policies and reforms which are likely to be highly unpopular as the parties prepared for the elections, expected in February at the earliest.

It stipulates yet more of the punishing austerity that has kept the country locked in a fourth year of recession, sent unemployment soaring to a record 18.4 percent and brought Greeks out on to the streets in sometimes violent protests.

"The big problem with this government is that it is not elected by the people," said Christoforos Vernardakis, a political scientist at Thessaloniki university. "If unemployment reaches 25 percent in December ... I doubt that a technocrat can implement any policies to cope with this."

Reuters

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