Greek PM Seeks Referendum on Changing Political System Blamed for Debt Crisis

Posted June 19th, 2011 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is calling for a referendum on changes to a political system that has led to massive government debts and left the country struggling to avoid bankruptcy.

Mr. Papandreou told parliament Sunday Greece is at a “critical” junction as it seeks emergency loans from international lenders to avoid a debt default and national bankruptcy.

The Socialist prime minister proposed a referendum on constitutional reforms aimed at making the government less inefficient and more capable of functioning independently of foreign aid.

Mr. Papandreou was speaking at the start of a parliamentary debate on confidence in his Cabinet, which he reshuffled on Friday in response to internal party criticism of his handling of the crisis. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the confidence motion Tuesday. Socialists hold a slim 5-seat majority in the 300-member assembly.

If the government survives the vote, Mr. Papandreou is expected to seek parliamentary approval for austerity measures that international lenders say must be implemented by the end of this month.

Mr. Papandreou's government also is seeking the next installment of an international bailout package approved last year to avoid defaulting on its debts next month.

His newly-appointed Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was due to meet other finance chiefs of the 17-member euro zone later Sunday to ask them to release the $17 billion installment. The IMF has said it is ready to release its share of the funds if Greece meets its austerity promises.

Athens also is negotiating a second bailout package to keep its economy afloat beyond September, but EU leaders have been unable to agree on the terms of such a loan, including how much of its should be funded by the private sector.

EU powers Germany and France moved closer to resolving the dispute Friday, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that private sector involvement should be voluntary. She previously had demanded compulsory participation by banks and other private lenders.