Party leaders fail to reach unity deal, president to try next

Political leaders failed on Friday to agree on the formation of a unity government and unless President Karolos Papoulias is able to broker a last-minute deal between Greece?s bickering political parties over the next few days, the country will head for new elections next month.

The leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), Alexis Tsipras, rejected on Friday night a proposal to enter a government that would include PASOK, New Democracy and Democratic Left. The idea was put to Tsipras by PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who had earlier obtained the agreement of ND leader Antonis Samaras and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis. The latter qualified his acceptance by saying that he would only enter an administration with ND and PASOK if SYRIZA joined as well.

However, SYRIZA shot down any chances of an agreement, arguing that he did not have enough guarantees that the unity government would stop applying austerity measures as part of the bailout Greece has agreed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

?I want to stress that the rejection of this offer is not being given by me or by SYRIZA but by the Greek people and their vote on Sunday,? said Tsipras, whose party wants to rewrite the terms of the loan agreement despite the EU and IMF?s insistence that only small changes can be made.

?The memorandum has been rejected by the Greek people. No government has the right to apply it,? he added. ?The issue is the austerity measures the Greek people have suffered for two years.?

Tsipras questioned whether the other parties willing to join the unity government were also committed to scrapping measures such as the canceling of collective contracts, ending cuts to pensions and wages, proceeding with privatizations and sackings in the civil service.

?They should give us clear answers to these key questions and forget public relations tricks,? said the SYRIZA leader. ?They should forget these tricks before poverty, recession, unemployment, emergency taxes, closed businesses and sackings finish off the country and its people.?

Tsipras also rejected accusations from ND?s Samaras that SYRIZA has an anti-European stance or is threatening to push Greece out of the euro. He also expressed the hope that Democratic Left?s Kouvelis would abide by his pledge not to form a government with the conservatives and PASOK without SYRIZA?s presence. Several SYRIZA MPs appeared on local TV and radio yesterday to clarify that the party does not favor a unilateral rejection of the bailout, which could lead to bankruptcy and a euro exit.

Earlier, Samaras launched a strong attack on SYRIZA as he addressed his party MPs. Sources said the conservatives have one eye on possible elections next month and the party believes that making SYRIZA, rather than PASOK, its main political opponent during the campaign will bring them more votes than on Sunday.

Speaking after Tsipras on Friday night, Venizelos said that SYRIZA?s participation in any administration would be a ?precondition? for a new government to be formed. He disagreed with Tsipras that the election result was a clear indication Greeks had rejected the memorandum.

?The people told us that they want a coalition government and to remain in the euro,? he said, adding that he hoped all party leaders would show greater responsibility when invited by the president to take part in talks.

Venizelos is due to return his exploratory mandate to Papoulias on Saturday, after which the president will call each of the party leaders. It is not known when the meeting between the party chiefs will take place or exactly what the process will be. It is possible the talks will take place on Monday.

If no deal is reached, a caretaker government will be appointed. It will be headed by the president of the Supreme Court, Council of State or the Court of Audit.

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