PM seeks to ward off a crisis

President Karolos Papoulias on Thursday offered to help Prime Minister Lucas Papademos ward off a political crisis by convening a session of party leaders if the premier?s talks with them, due to start on Friday, fail to yield a compromise on the policies of the fragile coalition as well as its duration.

Following the collapse of talks on plans to cut auxiliary pensions earlier this week and with mounting speculation about early elections threatening to hamper the progress of reforms demanded by the country?s international creditors, Papademos aims to establish a common position with the leaders of his tripartite coalition. His first meeting, at 6.30 p.m. Friday, is with Antonis Samaras, the leader of conservative New Democracy, which has put up the fiercest resistance to the planned pension reforms and is also the keenest for snap polls as early as February 19. Immediately after Samaras, Papademos is to meet the leader of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Giorgos Karatzaferis, who has shifted his stance on both reforms and election timing several times.

The premier?s meeting with PASOK leader George Papandreou — who has been unconditionally supportive of the reforms as they are a continuation of his own term — has been scheduled for the Tuesday after Christmas.

According to sources, Papoulias expressed his concern to Papademos about the absence of political consensus at such a critical time for Greece but was reassured by the premier, who said the problems would be ironed out in coming days. Papoulias reportedly told Papademos that he would remain in Athens over Christmas in case he is needed.

PASOK is reportedly open to the prospect of a new session of party leaders chaired by the president while ND opposes it, noting that the last such meeting in November — which led to the formation of the coalition — already set out a clear framework for policy as well as proposing the date of February 19 for elections.

LAOS was on the fence on the election issue again Friday, with Karatzaferis telling Parliament that the government?s term should either be extended indefinitely, along with a cabinet reshuffle, or snap polls called immediately.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos countered that snap polls remained out of the question as talks on a plan for private sector involvement in a haircut on Greek bonds are at a crucial stage.

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