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Socialists swept from power in greece { March 8 2004 }

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Socialists swept from power in Greece
By Brian Williams And Karolos Grohmann
March 8, 2004 - 10:43AM

Greek conservatives ended a decade of socialist rule with a resounding election victory today which handed new Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis the challenging job of overseeing this year's Olympic Games.

After exit polls indicated a win of around five percentage points for the New Democracy party of Karamanlis, socialist leader George Papandreou conceded defeat.

"New Democracy has won the elections. I wish Karamanlis success in his work for the good of Greece," said Papandreou, head of the socialist Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which has governed Greece since 1993.

Karamanlis, a US-educated lawyer, takes power just five months before the August Olympic Games, a massive security and logistical operation for which preparations are behind schedule.

Quick decisions are also needed on reuniting Greek and Turkish Cypriots before the island joins the European Union in May.

The nephew of a former conservative prime minister who led Greece out of military dictatorship in 1974, Karamanlis said earlier this week he would work to bring foreign investment to Greece if his party won the parliamentary poll.

Television station exit polls broadly agreed on the margin of victory, with state television Net forecasting New Democracy winning 45.5 per cent of the vote by 10 million Greeks and PASOK 40.2 per cent.

The election, called last January when the conservatives had an opinion poll lead of up to seven percentage points, was regarded as the most significant since military rule ended.

The new government's other main tasks during its four year term include tackling inflation and nearly 10 per cent unemployment.

"This is an intensely anti-PASOK vote and not so much one in favour of New Democracy," pollster Andreas Panagopoulos said.

"We see a high percentage of PASOK voters turning to New Democracy."

Celebrations erupted outside New Democracy headquarters after announcement of the exit polls. Hundreds of supporters waving Greek and party flags cheered and awaited the arrival of Karamanlis.

The main choice of the election was between the inheritors of two family political dynasties which have dominated modern Greek politics.

On the right was Karamanlis, nephew of the former prime minister who restored democracy to Greece after seven years of military rule.

On the left was Papandreou, grandson and son of former prime ministers, who failed in a bid to win the party's fourth consecutive election since 1993.

In the 2000 election, PASOK won 158 seats in the 300-member parliament. New Democracy, under Karamanlis, took 125.

"At this early stage it looks like New Democracy could get about 170 seats. Pasok could get less than 120 seats," Metron Analysis pollster Stratos Fanaras told Antenna TV as the first exit polls were announced.

There were few major policy differences between the two parties, with each promising incentives to attract wary foreign investors as well as better health care and education.

"I expect that we will have continuity in foreign and economic policy, and on the EU and the issue of Cyprus," Theodoros Kouloumbis, head of Hellenic Foundation for Defence and Foreign Policy, told Reuters. The conservatives have criticised the pace of preparations for August 13-29 Olympic Games, but have promised not to make dramatic last minute changes.

"The time is up for criticism," Karamanlis said last week.

"Our responsibility the day after we take power is to make sure we guarantee that the preparation flows on as it's been programmed ...and stage the best possible Olympics."

The position of Games chief Gianna Angelopoulos, herself a former ND parliamentary deputy, is not under threat but others may be facing the exit.

With just five months to go, less than half of the venues have been completed, including the main stadium. The 2000 hosts, Sydney, had finished all major building a year before.

Papandreou pledged support on both Cyprus and the Games.

"For us the Cyprus problem is of the utmost importance. It's going through a difficult phase," he said in his concession speech.

"We will also continue to offer support on the major issue of the Olympic Games."

- Reuters

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