Greece Prepares for Departure of George Papandreou

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The Guardian/UK

Greece Prepares for Departure of George Papandreou

Greece's new leader is likely to be Evangelos Venizelos, who has been reassuring eurozone leaders on bailout crisis

by
David Gow in Athens

The Greek capital woke up on Saturday to the victory of the prime minister in the vote of confidence at around 00.45 local time – and the knowledge that George Papandreou would almost certainly be replaced within the next few days by his deputy and rival Evangelos Venizelos.

He survived the vote of confidence with a slim majority of 153 votes to 145, but is almost certain to announce he will quit.

Deprived of the official support of the main opposition party, New Democracy, which wants snap elections instead, Papandreou is relying on two small parties well to the right of his ruling socialist Pasok party to form a "government of national unity" with command of 180 seats in parliament.

Papandreou met the Greek president, Karolos Papoulias, at noon local time on Saturday and told him that the nation had to forge a political consensus to prove it wanted to keep the euro, launching his push for a new coalition government to save the nation from bankruptcy.

Negotiations on a new Greek coalition government will begin soon, Papandreou said after talks with the president on Saturday morning.

"In order to create this wider co-operation, we will start the necessary procedures and contacts soon," he told reporters outside the presidential palace.

Hours earlier, he had told parliament he was prepared to forfeit his own political future to secure that of the country.

"The last thing I care about is my post. I don't care even if I am not re-elected. The time has come to make a new effort ... I never thought of politics as a profession," he said before the vote early on Saturday.

Having narrowly survived a parliamentary confidence vote, Papandreou went to the president to discuss the formation of new unity government.

He told Papoulias that Greece had to avoid early elections, as he pushed for a broad-based government to secure a bailout – the main weapon in the eurozone's battle against its spreading economic crisis.

"My aim is to immediately create a government of co-operation," he told the president in the presence of reporters before the two leaders began talks behind closed doors. "A lack of consensus would worry our European partners over our country's will to stay in the eurozone."

"Consensus is the one and only way," Papoulias responded.
New leadership on the crisis

Venizelos has won considerable respect among eurozone leaders for his handling of the crisis. It was he who forced Papandreou to abandon his destabilising plans for a referendum on the 27 October eurozone summit package that envisages a further €130bn (£112bn) bailout for Greece paid for largely by a 50% "haircut" for private creditors on their holdings of Greek debt. This was after the pair were given a humiliating dressing down by Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy before the G20 summit got under way in Cannes.

The finance minister, who was first to congratulate the premier on his pyrrhic victoryon Saturday, has been on the phone to reassure his eurozone colleagues, above all Wolfgang Schäuble of Germany, that Greece will meet the terms of the second bailout and be able to reach a deal on the fine details within a few weeks.

Bondholders marshalled by the International Institute for Finance are demanding political certainty in the country - as is the business community which has been pressing behind the scenes for a government of national salvation led by a non-political figure such as Loukas Papademos, former president of the European Central Bank.

Venizelos told Schäuble et al that he would turn up at Monday's meeting of eurogroup finance ministers in Brussels armed with what his ministry called "the political guarantees which are necessary for the disbursement of the sixth tranche of €8bn". This is the sum required before 15 December to save Greece from bankruptcy. Greek banks, which have almost €50bn exposure to state debt, need the package approved swiftly so they can rebuild their capital base.
 

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