Tue, Nov 09, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Greek PM vows to press ahead

AP, ATHENS

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou vowed to press ahead with painful austerity measures to pull the debt-strapped country out of a severe financial crisis.

With nearly all returns counted yesterday, Papandreou’s Socialists (PASOK) led a key race for regional governor in greater Athens but lost significant ground elsewhere to the main opposition conservative party, while turn-out plunged. A runoff vote will be held on Sunday.

Papandreou had warned he would call a snap general election unless his party-backed candidates won clear backing in Sunday’s vote for 13 regional governors and 325 mayors, citing the need for public support for austerity measures taken in return for a 110 billion euro (US$155 billion) package of rescue loans from the EU and IMF.

With more than 95 percent of votes counted, PASOK-backed candidates were ahead in seven of the regional governor races, including in Athens, the country’s largest administrative region.

However, the conservatives made significant gains compared to their crushing defeat in the -general election in October last year that brought Papandreou to power.

Legions of voters also showed their displeasure for the government — whose austerity policies have included cutting civil servants’ salaries, hiking taxes and freezing pensions — by staying away from the ballot box. In a country where voting is compulsory and elections generally well-attended, the abstention rate ran to nearly 40 percent.

“The government did not get the blank check it was asking for. The blackmail did not work,” conservative leader Antonis Samaras. said. Opposition parties had campaigned against the terms of the bailout loans, putting pressure on Papandreou, who has faced months of disruptive strikes and protests as a deepening recession caused a surge in unemployment and small business closures.

“One year after our heavy election defeat, we have almost erased the gap in support with the ruling party — an unprecedented accomplishment for an opposition party,” Samaras said. “The people demand an exit from the crisis through growth, not suffocation.”

Senior conservative official Evripidis Stylianidis said PASOK had seen its lead of nearly 11 percentage points over the conservatives dwindle to just 2.5 percentage points.

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