Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday defended his decision to call early elections next month saying it had been made «in the nation’s best interests» and stressing that he would continue to lead his beleaguered conservative party even in the event of defeat at snap polls on October 4. «I will not quit, I am going to give everything I’ve got,» Karamanlis told a press conference yesterday following his keynote speech on Saturday at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), which this year served as the launch of his party’s pre-election campaign. Karamanlis said early elections had been necessitated by two things – the nation’s sputtering economy, which he attributed to the global financial crisis, and pressure from the main opposition party PASOK, which he condemned as «political blackmail.» «Our nation is at a critical crossroad and must introduce structural reforms,» the premier said. He added that curbs on public spending were unavoidable and that tax evaders would come under much closer scrutiny. Questioned by reporters about high-profile government officials implicated in the Vatopedi land swap scandal, Karamanlis resorted to self-criticism. «Last year I was wrong.» The premier also acknowledged shortcomings in ruling New Democracy, noting that «we could have been bolder in pushing through some reforms.» This remark paved the way for several digs at PASOK. Karamanlis accused it of failing to support the government’s initiatives for reform, chiefly in education. As for the possibility of cooperating with PASOK in a coalition government in the event of his party’s failure to secure a parliamentary majority, Karamanlis ruled it out, highlighting the two main parties’ «political differences.» The PM also ruled out cooperation with the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), saying that he does not «engage in dialogue with the extreme.» A spokesman for PASOK condemned Karamanlis as «unrepentant» for the failure of his party’s policies. «Citizens have no reason to give a third chance to Mr Karamanlis,» said Giorgos Papaconstantinou. On the streets of Thessaloniki, thousands of citizens expressed their exasperation more actively. Around 7,000 people marched to protest the government’s policies, while small groups of self-styled anarchists clashed with police and smashed bank facades. There was also unrest in Exarchia, central Athens.