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Greece votes on economic future as world watches

15 june 2012, 19:13
Radical leftist leader Alexis Tsipras. ©AFP
Radical leftist leader Alexis Tsipras. ©AFP
Greece votes on Sunday for the second time in as many months in an election being watched around the world which could determine if Athens sticks to painful austerity or crashes out of the eurozone, AFP reports.

Some 9.8 million eligible voters will be asked to choose between pro-bailout parties offering to "renegotiate" the country's EU-IMF rescue deal, and a radical leftist party that wants to tear up the agreement and start from scratch.

Alexis Tsipras, the 37-year-old leader of leftist Syriza, has pledged to make the bailout "history" if he completes a historic run that has so far seen his fledgling party more than triple its results from the previous election in 2009.

"The bailout deal is already in the past. It will be history for good on Monday," he said at the close of his election campaign this week.

Syriza has been running neck-and-neck with the conservative New Democracy in the latest polls but no party is expected to garner a ruling majority and the days to come are likely to be dominated by convulsed coalition talks.

Smaller parties are calling for a government of national unity.

As his campaign winds up, New Democracy chief Antonis Samaras said he was confident he would be able to put together a coalition government.

"We will stay in the euro. We do not play around with Europe," he said.

Meanwhile the country is running out of money, with enough reserves to last only until July and the release of fresh installments from the European Union and International Monetary Fund credit line suspended until after the elections.

Banking sources also say the rate of withdrawals is up ahead of the election.

Syriza, which could win up to a third of the vote according to polls, intends to scrap cost-cutting labour reforms passed a few months ago, raise the minimum wage and freeze state asset sales, but insists Greece can still stay in the euro.

And they argue that a Greek euro exit would start a eurozone chain reaction and will never be allowed to happen -- in defiance of warnings from European leaders that abandoning the bailout deal will ultimately force Greece out.

Tsipras says he intends to negotiate a new economic blueprint with Greece's EU peers but if he is turned down "it will mean that they want to exterminate the country, the people, the nation," he told Antenna television on Thursday.

In that case, he said, the leftists will emulate British wartime leader Winston Churchill.

"I promise you tears and sweat, but we will exit the crisis," Tsipras said.

Samaras has branded the leftists' electoral programme "comic book economics" although he too has said he will negotiate with Greece's creditors to ease the bailout conditions, pointing out that a mood shift in Europe will ease the task.

Tsipras's electoral programme has caused alarm in the global economic community.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Wednesday insisted that the electoral outcome would change nothing in Greece's austerity obligations.

"An election result will not change anything about the real situation of the country, which is in a painful crisis due to decades of economic mismanagement. They have to take tough measures," Schaeuble told Stern magazine.

Even French President Francois Hollande, who favours growth over cuts and whose election was hailed as a ray of hope by crisis-weary Greeks, warned that Athens needed to stick to its bailout commitments to stay in the euro.

Hollande told Greece's Mega Channel television that if it appears from the vote that Greece will not respect the bailout deal "there will be countries in the eurozone which would prefer to end Greece's presence in the eurozone."

"I am in favour of Greece remaining in the eurozone, but Greeks should know that this requires there be a relationship of trust," Hollande said.

With Spain recently calling for a multi-billion bank rescue and Italy under renewed pressure, a summit of EU leaders on June 28 and 29 must deal with a eurozone crisis that increasingly threatens global growth prospects.

Analysts have called for steps towards a fiscal and banking union that would reduce concerns about the finances of weaker eurozone countries.

Sunday's election, called after an inconclusive ballot on May 6 failed to produce a workable majority, is the country's third in three years.

Polling stations open nationwide at 0400 GMT and close at 1600 GMT, with the first exit polls released immediately afterwards.

The first indicative official results are expected after 1830 GMT.

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