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Greece sets vote for Sept 20 as Syriza leads polls

voteGreece geared up Friday for a snap election next month, with an opinion poll showing leftist party Syriza ahead despite a wave of defections over the country’s massive new bailout.

The state-run ANA news agency said President Prokopis Pavlopoulous had signed a decree dissolving parliament and confirming the widely-expected date of September 20 for the crisis-hit country’s fifth election in six years.

A caretaker government appointed by Pavlopoulos to organise the election took office earlier Friday with Greece’s top judge as prime minister, replacing Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras who resigned last week.

Tsipras, who rode to power in January on a wave of popular anger over austerity, is now seeking re-election to implement more reforms demanded under the new 86-billion-euro ($96-billion) international rescue package.

A poll in leftist newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton gave Syriza only a slim 3.5-point lead over the conservative New Democracy.

The survey by pollsters ProRata said 23 percent of voters would support Syriza over 19.5 percent for New Democracy.

But more than a quarter of those polled said they were undecided.

– Greece ‘will only go forward’ –

“Today the great electoral battle begins. The Greek people will give a strong mandate for the present and the future,” Tsipras said in a statement to the Syriza newspaper Avgi.

“Greece cannot turn back and will not turn back. It will only go forward.”

The poll found that 64 percent of voters disagreed with Tsipras’ decision to step down, and one in two were unimpressed with his promise to ease the austerity measures he ratified if re-elected.

Syriza was hit by a wave of defections after Tsipras signed up to the third bailout, which critics say is the harshest Greece has adopted so far.

A group of 25 hardline lawmakers split off to form their own party, Popular Unity, and Syriza has also been hit with resignations at local party level.

According to Friday’s opinion poll, Popular Unity would pick up 3.5 percent of the vote, just above the minimum required for parliamentary representation.

“We will do our utmost so that the elections are held in flawless fashion,” Supreme Court head Vassiliki Thanou, Greece’s first female PM, told the inaugural meeting of her interim cabinet.

– Cuts ‘annihilating’ the people –
Thanou, 65, has already indicated that she also intends to tackle issues such as the huge influx of migrants and refugees during her brief term.

The veteran judge is known for her critical stance towards austerity — in February she wrote to European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to warn that the cuts were “annihilating” the Greek people.

Tsipras’ eight months in power have proved a rollercoaster for the troubled Greek economy.

As talks broke down in June between Athens and its international creditors and Greeks rejected austerity proposals in a referendum, the European Central Bank restricted its assistance to Greek banks, forcing the government to shut them down and impose capital controls to avert a run on deposits.

Earlier this month, the statistics agency said output had surprisingly picked up in the second quarter of the year, growing by 0.8 percent — at a time when Greece was bickering with its creditors over the bailout and fears of a Greek exit from the eurozone were running high.

On Friday, the agency revised the figure upwards, saying the economy had grown by 0.9 percent.

The caretaker government includes former socialist finance minister Nikos Christodoulakis as economy minister, and George Chouliarakis — the main Greek negotiator with the country’s creditors — as finance minister.

Until today, there was only one known photograph in circulation of low-profile Chouliarakis, an ecoomics lecturer at Manchester University who prefers to work in the background — one of him speaking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a government trip to Berlin in March.

Veteran diplomat and ex-conservative minister Petros Molyviatis will lead the foreign ministry for the third time.

Popular singer Alkistis Protopsalti was named junior minister for tourism, and the longterm head of the National Gallery, Marina Lambraki-Plaka, as junior minister for culture.

Protopsalti told reporters that she did not intend to cancel tours in the United States and Canada during her one-month term.

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