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Greek Election Set For June 17, Judge Sworn In As Caretaker PM

  • RFE/RL

A senior judge has been sworn in as Greece's caretaker prime minister to lead the debt-stricken country until new elections on June 17.

Political party leaders earlier on May 16 agreed on the election date at a meeting with President Karolos Papoulias.

The parties also agreed that Panagiotis Pikramenos, chief of Greece's top administrative court, will lead the interim government.

The new vote became necessary after the parties failed to agree on a coalition government following the inconclusive May 6 election.

Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of socialist Pasok party, called on all political forces to show unity until the elections.

"The situation must not get worse for Greeks and this is not easy or simple, we all need to work for it because right now the country will be governed by a caretaker government," Venizelos said.

No party won a sufficient majority to form a government after the elections, which boosted antiausterity far-left and far-right parties and alliances.

Meanwhile, the poll stripped the two mainstream parties, socialist Pasok and the conservative New Democracy, of their parliamentary majority. Pasok and New Democracy have dominated Greece's politics since 1974, after the end of Greece's seven-year military dictatorship.

Prime Minister-designate Pikramenos joked on May 16 that his own name, which translates to "embittered" in English, made him suited to be the last prime minister of the era dominated by Pasok and the New Democracy.

Both parties, which governed in an uneasy coalition until the May 6 elections, are strong proponents of a bailout package agreed with European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The radical leftist Syriza party finished second in the May 6 poll after a hard-line antiausterity and anti-EU campaign.

Opinion polls indicate that Syriza and other leftist parties opposed to austerity measures, which have been taken in exchange for a bailout loan to avoid default, would win a repeat election.

The leftists argue they can get out of the bailout while keeping the euro.

'No Way Out' For Greece

European leaders, however, have warned that if Greece fails to meet its pledges, lenders will turn off the money tap, pushing Greece into bankruptcy and out of the eurozone.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on May 16 in Brussels there was "no way" for Greece to change the terms of the 130 billion-euro ($165 billion) bailout.

He added that the EU wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone, but it must meet its obligations.

"The commitments taken by Greece and all the euro area member states should be kept, not because the European Union or the euro area wish it to be like that, but because there is no other alternative that has less pain and fewer difficulties," Barroso said.

European Central Bank head Mario Draghi also said that the "strong preference" of the bank's management was for Athens to stay in the common currency.

Greeks, meanwhile, have reportedly withdrawn at least 700 million euros ($890 million) from banks in recent days.

Concerns that Greece might leave the eurozone have seen the euro plunge to its lowest level in four months -- 1.27 against the U.S. dollar.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa