Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Snap election in Greece as relief deals are passed

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ATHENS -- Greece's prime minister has called a general election for May 6, after his coalition government pushed through landmark financial relief deals that rescued the country from the threat of bankruptcy, but condemned his recession-hit countrymen to greater hardship.

Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, was appointed premier in November and spent five months pushing through harsh austerity measures in order to secure a vital international bailout and a major debt-relief deal with banks.

"The main goals of our government were achieved," Papademos told a cabinet meeting Wednesday, according to a government transcript. "But to complete and secure the effort to right the economy, important decisions have to be taken immediately."

He said these included a new austerity program from 2013-16, implementation of cutbacks and structural reforms "needed for the Greek economy to grow viably and for the country to remain within the eurozone."

Opinion polls have indicated no party will be able to win the majority needed to govern alone, but it remains unclear whether the country's main political leaders will agree to a new power-sharing deal. A new survey found roughly one in two voters favour a coalition government.

Papademos met later with President Karolos Papoulias to make the formal request for the election, 18 months before parliament's current term expires.

In a televised evening address to the nation, he urged voters to back policies that will keep Greece in the European Union and the eurozone.

"Our decisions will not just be about who will be in government on the day after the vote," Papademos said. "They will determine the course of Greece in coming decades."

The government will remain in office until the elections to ensure implementation of legislated reforms, Papademos told his cabinet.

"We can't waste a single day," he said. "This electoral campaign is unlike others. Many issues cannot wait for handling until after the elections."

Papademos said one major outstanding issue is the recapitalization of Greece's banks, which were hard-hit by the country's privately held debt writedown that cut the face value of their Greek bond holdings by more than half through a massive swap deal.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2012 A9

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