Ending days of intense speculation, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called early general elections yesterday, appealing to the public to give his beleaguered conservative party a «fresh mandate» to push through reforms and tackle the impact of the global financial crisis. Addressing the nation in a televised speech, Karamanlis referred to a «harsh new reality» and stressed that citizens would have to choose between the «hard road» of tougher reforms or the «easy road» of unpopular measures, including a crackdown on widespread tax evasion and curbs on public spending. The premier did not determine a date for the snap polls, though they are expected on October 4. He said he would visit President Karolos Papoulias today, as is customary, and ask him to dissolve Parliament so that the country can prepare for general elections. In his speech, Karamanlis laid the blame for early polls at the feet of the main opposition PASOK, accusing the party of creating an «unbearable protracted pre-election climate» by insisting that it would force an election next March. Parliament is to vote for a new president next March and PASOK had reiterated its intention to vote against Papoulias in order to force the government to call national polls. Karamanlis stressed that this behavior by PASOK was «irresponsible» but that the current climate made it imperative to push through with elections, focusing on the economy. «We have to lay the emphasis on getting the economy moving,» said the premier who is to address the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), an annual gathering of businessmen and political landmark event, in the northern city this weekend. Responding to the premier’s public address last night, PASOK leader George Papandreou said that calling polls was not a sign of the government being strong but of its innate weaknesses. «The government has collapsed under the weight of the problems that it has created,» Papandreou said. The PASOK leader, whose party is currently leading the ruling conservatives by 6 percentage points in opinion polls, added that the country’s economic problems were the fault of the government and could not be attributed to the global financial crisis.