Greece’s Samaras rules out post-election cooperation

ATHENS: The leader of Greece’s conservatives, reluctant partners in a unity government, signalled on Thursday his main focus was on winning an election expected in February and reversing policies prescribed under an emergency bailout.

Antonis Samaras has infuriated Greece’s EU peers over the past two years by refusing to back austerity measures aimed at averting national bankruptcy, and he said he would not cooperate with other parties after the election, slated for Feb. 19.

His statements are further evidence of the rough road ahead of technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former vice president at the European Central Bank whose three-party coalition won a vote of confidence in parliament on Wednesday.

An opinion poll published on Thursday showed Samaras’s New Democracy party had widened its lead over the Socialists of ex-prime minister George Papandreou, with its support rising to 32 per cent from 30 in September.

Thousands of Greeks are due to protest on Thursday against painful spending cuts and tax hikes that have pushed their country into a fourth year of recession.

The size and mood of the rally, the first big protest in almost a month, will show the level of bitterness towards further austerity measures sought by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in return for more loans.

”Many people don’t expect any solution, but others hope too much. Deep inside, everyone knows policies cannot change and the measures may be even worse,” said Mary Bossis, professor of International Security at the University of Piraeus.

Backed by New Democracy, its bitter rivals the Socialists and the far-right LAOS party, the cabinet must start meeting the terms of a new 130 billion euro bailout agreed last month.

Before that it must sign a pledge to assure the EU and IMF that it will do what it takes to make the deal work. In exchange it will get an 8 billion euro loan tranche it needs to avoid bankruptcy next month.

But any progress under its temporary mandate could be short- lived. ”We are working towards an absolute majority to implement our programme without delay and procrastination,” Samaras said in an interview in the magazine ”Epikera”.

”When we can, we will change all that needs to be changed. But to do that, we will need a strong mandate in the coming election.”

Polls show three quarters of Greeks back Papademos, a non-party technocrat, after decades of rotating rule by the PASOK Socialists and New Democracy. These two are blamed for piling up vast debts and leading Greece to the brink of default. (UNI)

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