Party leaders end first round of unity talks with president

The leaders of New Democracy, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and PASOK have concluded a meeting with President Karolos Papoulias aimed at forming a unity government.

The talks lasted just under 90 minutes. None of the party leaders made any statement to journalists outside the Presidential Mansion but ND chief Antonis Samaras said ?discussions will continue?.

Samaras was the only leader to make a statement to journalists before the meeting with Papoulias.

?The Greek people have not just sent a message, they have issued an order to change policy but to remain in Europe,? he said. ?It is an order to cooperate and form a viable government that will last until the European elections. It has to be a government that is above and beyond specific personalities.?

Samaras?s comment was in line with what was agreed with PASOK and Democratic Left earlier this week. The three parties agreed that an ecumenical government should be formed with the aim of staying in power until 2014.

PASOK and ND have suggested that they would cooperate in a unity government with SYRIZA and the smaller, pro-European leftist party, Democratic Left (DIMAR), but the leftist coalition has rejected their overtures. It is opposed to the terms of Greece?s loan agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund and believes the May 6 election result ?delegitimizes? the bailout.

SYRIZA says there is no way it will join a government without guarantees that austerity measures will be abandoned. Democratic Left has proposed all four parties create an administration with the aim of keeping Greece in the euro and forming a plan to disengage from the EU-IMF memorandum.

However, DIMAR says it will not participate in a government just with New Democracy and PASOK. Without the leftists, ND and PASOK are just short of the 151 seats needed to form a new government.

Speaking to Skai radio on Sunday, DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis said he was not optimistic that a deal would be reached. He suggested that SYRIZA had its focus on new elections soon after the results of Sunday?s voter were known.

After meeting Samaras, Tsipras and Venizelos on Sunday, President Papoulias will also hold talks, individually, with the other leaders of parties that won parliamentary seats in Sunday?s vote. Apart from Kouvelis, these are Panos Kammenos of the nationalist Independent Greeks, Aleka Papariga of the Communist Party (KKE) and Nikos Michaliolakos of the neofascist Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn).

In a statement on Sunday morning, Kammenos, whose party has adopted a strong anti-bailout line, called for there to be understanding and cooperation between the parties. This fuelled speculation that the leaders would agree on the formation of a technocratic government that would be able to continue negotiations with the EU and the IMF for a short period before new elections are held.

If no deal is reached, President Papoulias will, in line with the constitution, appoint the president of the Supreme Court, Council of State or Court of Audit as prime minister with instructions to form a caretaker government that will be in place until new elections are held.