Parties emerge into the open for final stretch of election campaign

Having spent most of this election campaign behind closed doors, Greece?s main political parties are preparing to take their message to the street - albeit under controlled conditions - in the final push toward May 6 polls.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and New Democracy chief Antonis Samaras are due to speak in Athens over the next couple of days as both parties seek to rally flagging support in the hope of securing the type of support at the ballot box on Sunday that would allow them to create some form of coalition government.

Samaras and Venizelos have spent most of this election campaign speaking to party supporters at indoor arenas or journalists in TV studios. This reflects concerns about poor attendance at traditional public rallies and the possibility of attacks on politicians, given that dozens of MPs have been barracked in public over the last two weeks.

After speaking in Thessaloniki over the weekend, Venizelos is gearing up for a public rally at Syntagma Square in Athens on Friday. Samaras is due to return to Zappeio Hall in the city center on Thursday to deliver his penultimate speech of the campaign, which will culminate with an address in Alexandroupoli, northeastern Greece, on Friday. Unlike his previous speeches at Zappeio, Samaras is due to speak at an open-air event tomorrow. PASOK and ND will attempt to ensure that both events will be trouble-free.

On Tuesday, both leaders focused on employment issues. Samaras promised that with ND?s growth strategy, Greece would reduce its unemployment rate to less than 10 percent within the next few years. It is currently at 21 percent. ?By implementing growth policies, we can reduce unemployment by more than half within three years,? he told supporters in Lavrio.

Samaras suggested that the economy, currently in its fifth year of recession, could grow by 9 percent over this period. He said that by using just half of the 14 billion euros in European Union structural fund due to Greece, the country could boost the economy by 7 percent of GDP and create 300,000 new jobs.

Speaking at the Skaramanga shipyards west of Athens, Venizelos also pledged to focus on job creation in the private sector. Sources said that Venizelos would this week stress the need for the next government to have at least 50 percent of the vote as he attempts to deter traditional PASOK supporters from voting for other parties.