13 May 2012

Greek parties in last-ditch talks

9:51 pm on 13 May 2012

Greece's president has begun talks with the heads of the three main parties, in a last attempt to form an emergency government to avoid having to hold fresh elections after an inconclusive poll last Sunday.

The election last Sunday left parliament almost equally divided between parties backing and opposing an international bailout that keeps Greece afloat in return for spending cuts and tax rises. Voters punished mainstream parties which backed the bailout.

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, Syriza's Alexis Tsipras and Pasok's Evangelos Venizelos began meeting with President Karolos Papoulias at midday local time on Sunday.

As the parties that won the most votes in last Sunday's election, they have all been allowed to try to form a government.

If Mr Papoulias fails, as is expected, the country will hold fresh elections in June.

Opinion polls say Syriza, a leftist party that wants to tear up Greece's loan agreement with Brussels, could come first in a new election, the BBC reports.

But Germany and other European leaders say that Greece can only ensure its place in the eurozone if it continues to reduce its debt through austerity measures.

Without a government to negotiate a new aid tranche from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Greece risks bankruptcy in weeks and potential ejection from the common currency, the euro.

The talks are expected to take place over two or three days, although in theory they could drag on until the opening of parliament on Thursday.