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Greek socialist leader steps down as snap election looms

Greek leader George Papandreou officially resigns as PM to ease the formation of a coalition government amid the country's economic crunch, while recent polls reveal that his party is heading for a major thrashing

AFP, Saturday 10 Mar 2012
Former Greek prime minister George Papandreou. (Photo: AP)
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Greek socialist leader George Papandreou on Saturday formally stepped down to enable his struggling party to elect a successor in time for a snap election expected next month.

"The time has come for me to wage my battles from other ramparts," said Papandreou, who resigned as prime minister in November to pave the way for a coalition government to steer the country away from default.

"I took tough decisions. They may have cost me politically but they were worth it," he told a party assembly in a speech met by frequent applause.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos is expected to succeed Papandreou when the party elects its new leader on March 18.

The socialists swept to power in 2009 on a ticket of economic reforms, but a year later Papandreou's government faced bankruptcy and was forced to sign an unpopular bailout with the EU and IMF that brought tough austerity.

Based on recent polls, the party is heading for a major thrashing and could drop to the lowest point in its 37-year history.

Greece's caretaker government, formed to complete a debt swap with private creditors and ratify a second eurozone bailout, is expected to conclude its mandate by April 12, government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said on Friday.

"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.

Under the Greek constitution, elections must be held within 30 days of the parliament being dissolved.

Kapsis declined to give an election date, but his comments suggest that ballots could be set as early as April 29, or in early May.

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