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New Greek PM to unveil platform to parliament


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s new prime minister will present his policy platform in parliament Monday, ahead of a midweek confidence vote in his coalition government that is tasked with implementing crucial reforms and securing the country’s international loan lifeline.

Lucas Papademos, a former central banker picked by broad party consensus last week, is expected to easily win Wednesday’s confidence vote.

His interim coalition government is backed by Greece’s two biggest parties and a small right-wing nationalist party. It has a mandate to coast the austerity-fatigued country over the next three months, with national elections tentatively scheduled for February.

The tough work lies ahead. Papademos’ government must pass the 2012 austerity budget, approve a new (euro) 130 billion ($177 billion) international bailout cobbled together last month, and see through lagging reforms that will include thousands of public sector layoffs.

Most crucially, it must secure the next (euro) 8 billion ($11 billion) installment of the rescue loans without which the country will go bankrupt before Christmas.

Greece depends on loans from a (euro) 110 billion ($150 billion) rescue package agreed in 2010, when huge borrowing costs blocked the debt-crippled country from international markets. That bailout later proved inadequate, forcing the new bailout agreed on Oct. 26 that will also see the reduction of the country’s privately held debt by some (euro) 100 billion, or 50 percent.

Athens is expected to officially launch talks in the next few days with banks and other private bond holders on the debt writedown.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos has said he hopes the next loan installment can be approved by his 16 eurozone colleagues in a Thursday teleconference. Greece’s eurozone partners are first seeking a written commitment from Athens to support the second bailout, signed by Papademos, the leaders of the main Socialist and conservative parties, the central bank governor and finance minister.

But it is unclear whether conservative New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras will agree to do so. He has expressed outrage at the demand, arguing that he has already pledged to back the deal and his word should suffice.

Greeks have suffered some 20 months of harsh austerity, with repeated pension and salary cuts compounded by a spate of tax increases. Unions have reacted with a wave of general strikes and demonstrations, many of which led to riots. A small left-wing party has called an anti-austerity protest just ahead of Papademos’ speech in parliament, while civil servants will hold work stoppages Tuesday.

However, Greeks appear relieved by the formation of the new government last Friday, after ten days of political wrangling triggered by the resignation of Socialist prime minister George Papandreou halfway through his four-year term.

Some 73 percent back Papademos’ selection according to a survey in Sunday’s To Vima newspaper, and 78 percent approved the coalition government. But only 26 percent said they expected the three parties to support the government’s work, with 56 percent voicing fears that the parties will focus on campaigning for February’s elections. The Nov. 11 poll of 1,000 people gave a 3 percent margin of error.

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