ATHENS, March 12 (BSS/AFP) - Greece plunged Sunday into an unofficial election campaign, just two days after a landmark debt-cutting deal, with government coalition partners trading barbs ahead of a looming April ballot.
Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, who has three ministers
in the coalition and a commanding lead in opinion polls, said a
"strong" government was needed when early elections are held
after April 15, the Orthodox Easter.
"Everybody knows that elections will be held immediately
after Easter," New Democracy leader Samaras told a party
"I cannot change things if I need to step on the delicate
balance of a ramshackle coalition...I want my hands free so that
the country can get back to its feet," he said.
The coalition government, which mostly includes ministers
from the socialist Pasok party, has yet to name a specific date
for the poll.
Both parties must agree on a date, and the socialists are
about to elect a new leader on March 18.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Sunday emerged as
the sole candidate to take over the leadership from George
Papandreou, son of party founder Andreas Papandreou.
He inherits a divided party facing its worst ratings in
decades after two years of unpopular austerity policies.
The Greek coalition government, headed by former European
Central Bank deputy Lucas Papademos, was formed in November to
complete a bond swap with private creditors to make Greece's huge
debt sustainable, and clinch a new 130-billion-euro ($173-
billion) eurozone bailout to avert a looming default on March 20.
The first task was completed on Friday, when banks and
investors agreed or were obliged to exchange over 100 billion
euros in debt.
Eurozone finance ministers immediately unblocked part of a
second aid package of 130 billion euros and were expected to
approve the rest in the coming week.
The government is expected to conclude its mandate by April
12, government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said on Friday.
Bonds issued under Greek law will be swapped on March 12,
while international law obligations will be exchanged on April
And Greece's parliament is to ratify the eurozone bailout by
the end of March.
"Parliament must remain open to ratify the (bailout)...
Around the end of March the task will be complete," Kapsis told
private television station Skai.
"The bond swap will be complete by April 12 and the
government's task will be over," he said.-MORE/SI/0900 HRS