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New Greek prime minister sworn in, will head coalition government

June 20, 2012 |  7:55 am

Samaras

ATHENS -- Antonis Samaras was sworn in as Greece's new prime minister Wednesday, three days after his conservative New Democracy party won a nail-biting parliamentary election.

Samaras will head a new power-sharing government that will encompass the left and right, according to a leader of one of the parties that will participate in the coalition.

A U.S.-educated economist with a business degree from Harvard, Samaras took the oath of office in a brief candlelight ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the presidential palace in Athens in front of Greek Orthodox clergy members.

His swearing-in came after Evangelos Venizelos, head of the socialist party PASOK, announced that "the conditions had been created" for the formation of a ruling coalition to include PASOK, the smaller Democratic Left group and New Democracy, which came in first in Sunday's polls.

"Greece has a government," Venizelos, a former finance minister, said after a second round of talks with Samaras.

The new prime minister is expected to unveil his government lineup sometime before his mandate to form an administration expires about midday Thursday.

Samaras' New Democracy party, together with its traditional nemesis PASOK, is committed to upholding Greece's international bailout deals, albeit with modifications that Athens hopes to win from its European partners. Greece needs the emergency loans to keep on paying its bills, but two years of punishing austerity measures have led to a breathtaking economic contraction and to pleas from Greeks for relief.

Backlash against the austerity cuts boosted the political fortunes of the radical leftist group Syriza, which pledged to abandon the bailout deals. New Democracy’s first-place finish over Syriza in Sunday's election triggered a sigh of relief in many European capitals, which had warned Greece that it risked being ejected from the Eurozone, the group of 17 nations that use the euro currency, if Syriza won.

Nonetheless, the new coalition will try to renegotiate elements of the rescue packages. Six representatives of the three-party coalition -- two from each party -- were meeting Wednesday to thrash out details of the government's negotiation strategy.

A key summit of European Union leaders is scheduled for next week. Venizelos said the meeting "will be the first major battle" for Greece in wresting changes to the bailout terms.

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-- Anthee Carassava. Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.

Photo: Antonis Samaras is sworn in Wednesday as the new prime minister of Greece. Credit: Orestis Panagiotou / EPA

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