Greece eyes elections after debt deal

Sat Mar 10, 2012 3:19pm EST
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By Harry Papachristou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos formally submitted his candidacy to lead the Socialist PASOK party on Saturday, as the focus in Athens shifted to elections expected once an international bailout deal is cleared.

Greece averted the immediate threat of an uncontrolled default on Thursday when it successfully concluded a bond swap deal under which private sector creditors agreed to accept deep cuts in the value of their holdings.

"There is now more than just recession, budget cuts and tax increases ... there's the hope to turn the wheel of growth," he told a party conference.

In a sharp reminder of the deep unpopularity of the austerity measures he has overseen, a pensioner on crutches hurled yoghurt at the burly Venizelos just before his speech, forcing him to delay his appearance to change clothes.

Venizelos, the dominant figure in the party since his appointment to the finance portfolio by former Prime Minister George Papandreou last year, is expected to win PASOK's leadership comfortably in an internal vote on March 18.

However opinion polls show the Socialists far behind the conservative New Democracy party ahead of elections expected by mid-May at the latest.

Both PASOK and New Democracy are in the coalition government headed by former central banker Lucas Papademos but have been openly jockeying for position in the runup to the elections, which may not produce a clear winner.

Formed in November, Papademos' emergency coalition government had a narrow mandate to complete bailout and debt cut talks and then hold elections as soon as possible.   Continued...

Greece's Prime Minister Lucas Papademos (L) talks with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos before a cabinet meeting at the parliament in Athens March 9, 2012. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis