Greeks vote in runoff local elections

Greeks vote in runoff local elections

Greeks voted in a runoff election Sunday for nearly a dozen undecided regions and most municipalities, seen as a referendum on government austerity measures, dpa reported.

Nearly a year after Prime Minister George Papandreou's Socialist party won a landslide victory in national elections, Sunday's vote follows a first round on November 7 that gave the Socialists a slim lead over the main opposition conservatives, focused their campaign against the terms of an international bailout loan.

Initial returns showed that a Socialist-backed candidate was expected to win the race for regional governor of greater Athens but at the same time the governing party also looked like it would lose the election for mayor of Athens.

The first round of voting gave the Socialists outright victory for two of the 13 regional governors and put them ahead of five others. The runoff vote was for the 11 undecided regions as well as 221 of the country's 325 municipalities.

Papandreou dropped the threat of calling an early general election after the government held its ground in the first round, and he urged Greeks to back his reforms.

The prime minister vowed to pursue austerity measures to pull the debt-ridden country from the brink of economic collapse. Greece has faced months of strikes as it plunges into recession, with rising unemployment and the closure of thousands of small businesses.

The government is required to slash spending and restructure large parts of the economy in exchange for the 110-billion-euro rescue plan funded by the International Monetary Fund and European Union.

The Socialists' parliamentary majority has approved measures such as wage and pension cuts and consumer tax increases in exchange for the bailout package.

Inspectors from the European Union and International Monetary Fund are due in Athens to take another look at the cost-cutting measures this week.

Athens may be forced to commit to further cost-cutting measures when the EU is expected to revise the country's 2009 deficit upward to 15.5 per cent of GDP from the current projection of 13.6 per cent later this week.

Papandreou said in an newspaper interview that Greece could be forced to seek and extension for repaying the emergency loan and admitted that the deficit revision would add pressure on his government to make additional cuts.

"It is like running a marathon and discovering during the course of the race that more kilometers have been added," he told the Proto Thema newspaper.

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