Interim talks reach impasse, to continue Thursday

Just when it seemed that several days of tense negotiations aimed at forming an interim government to lead Greece through its political and economic crisis were coming to an end, the process was again thrown into doubt on Wednesday night as the leaders of the two main parties failed to reach an agreement.

A meeting between President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister George Papandreou and conservative New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras yesterday afternoon – where the outgoing premier was expected to submit his resignation and pave the way for the announcement of a successor – was cut short after reports that the two main party leaders were still at loggerheads over who should lead an interim government. The three men are to meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, when it is hoped the deadlock will finally be broken.

The renewed upheaval was in sharp contrast with the content of Papandreou?s televised speech during which the outgoing premier signaled the ?beginning of a new political mentality, a new political culture.? ?Today we leave aside our differences,? Papandreou said, heralding ?a common effort to ensure the country moves forward, not only to remain part of the eurozone but also to emerge from the crisis.? The PM said the interim government would make the necessary efforts to ?justify the sacrifices made by the Greek people over the past two years,? referring to a raft of wage and pension cuts. The chief goals of the new administration would be to secure crucial rescue funds and continue talks with Greece?s foreign creditors, he said.

Papandreou?s speech was also a parting message that appeared to signal departure not only from politics but from Greece. ?I never put my position above the national good,? he said. ?For me, Greece is above everything. Wherever I go, I will carry the Greek flag in my heart,? he added.

He also said that he would do everything he could to support the new prime minister and the new government.

ND leader Antonis Samaras, speaking after the meeting, said that his party too was concerned about securing the release of rescue funding and suggested that Papandreou was to blame for the new impasse.

?My problem is not with individuals,? he said, referring to the long list of candidates for premier that have been the focus of speculation for days. Samaras made it clear, once again, that his eye is on early elections. ?What we and all Greeks desire is that the people can finally speak,? he said.

The leader of the right-wing LAOS party, Giorgos Karatzaferis, left the Presidential Mansion after a few minutes, accusing Papandreou and Samaras of political point scoring, although he later agreed to join fresh talks this morning.

?It is a great shame that at such critical times the leaders of the two main parties are playing tactical games and undermining the president and all he represents,? Karatzaferis told reporters. Exactly what led to the deadlock – and the collapse of talks with the original front-runner for the post of premier, Lucas Papademos – remained the subject of feverish debate last night. Meanwhile a large number of PASOK MPs, as well as ND deputies, were said to be vehemently opposed to the apparent choice of Parliament Speaker Filippos Petsalnikos – a close associate of Papandreou and a party stalwart – for interim premier.