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New Greek president Pavlopoulos, pro-European with mixed legacy

19 february 2015, 11:23

 Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who was elected Greece's new president Wednesday, is a veteran conservative insider whose selection has raised its share of eyebrows among the ruling left, AFP reports.

The 64-year old, famed for his snowy mop of hair, has worked closely with previous presidents as well as serving as interior minister and parliamentary spokesman for the conservative New Democracy party.

A staunch pro-European, Pavlopoulos was elected to a five-year term by 233 votes out of the chamber's 300.

His candidacy puzzled some within the ruling radical left Syriza party, however, as Pavlopoulos' legacy is inconsistent with the new hard-left government's pledges to revolutionise political life in the country.

Greek media reported that Pavlopoulos received "mild" applause from Syriza lawmakers when his candidacy was announced on Tuesday.

But Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the new president had "a proven democratic sensitivity, a high feeling of national conscience, and... enjoys broad approval in society and parliament."

He was considered a safe choice, being largely untainted by the controversy surrounding the country's loathed bailout obligations, agreed to by the former conservative government.

Pavlopoulus distanced himself from measures many Greeks said were strangling the economy and punishing the poor.

His career has not been entirely devoid of controversy, however.

Pavlopoulos was accused by critics of filling thousands of public sector jobs with friends and supporters of New Democracy during his stint as interior and public administration minister from 2004 to 2009.

His reputation was hit again by the 2008 riots that broke out on his watch after the death of a 15-year-old Greek student, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, who was shot dead by police in Athens.

The riots dogged Pavlopoulos but are understood to have endeared him to leftists, who appreciated his refusal to order a police crackdown on the violence.

More recently, the mild-mannered Pavlopoulos was criticised for not lifting a finger to help a female Communist lawmaker, who was struck in the face by a neo-Nazi politician during a morning talk show in 2012.

But supporters applaud Pavlopoulos's diplomatic finesse and legal expertise.

A few months ago, New Democracy entrusted Pavlopoulos with a constitutional revision to enable the people to elect presidents, thereby stopping the process from effectively serving as a government confidence vote.

It was parliament's inability to agree on a candidate at the presidential election in December which sparked early elections and ushered in the radical left Syriza party in January.

A moderate, Pavlopoulos boasts ties with Greece's top statesmen.

In 1974, he served as secretary to former president Michail Stasinopoulos.

He was also legal advisor to another former president, New Democracy founder Constantinos Karamanlis, between 1990-1995.

A lawyer who studied in Paris on a scholarship from the French government, he began working as a lecturer but rose fast to the rank of professor before moving into the political sphere.

He has challenged the legal arguments behind Germany's insistence that Greece has no grounds to request war reparations for Nazi-era atrocities.

"There is a legal basis for Greece's claims...the issue is not settled," he wrote last year, labelling comments by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble as "provocatively mistaken".

Born in Kalamata in southern Greece in 1950, Pavlopoulos is married with three children.

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