Greece Appoints Caretaker PM, Sets Date for New Elections

Posted May 16th, 2012 at 8:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Greece has sworn in a senior judge as the country's new caretaker prime minister.

Council of State head Panagiotis Pikrammenos was appointed Wednesday after major political parties failed to form a coalition government following several attempts to broker a deal.

The 67-year-old Mr. Pikrammenos will be tasked with organizing the country's repeat elections scheduled for June 17.

Analysts say the new elections, like those held earlier this month, are also likely to produce a hung parliament with no party securing enough votes to form a government. But a radical left coalition led by Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza party leader who fiercely opposes austerity measures, has gained enough support to have a major influence.

The political stalemate in Greece has led to rising concerns among eurozone financial ministers that Athens will not uphold the austerity commitments it made as it secured the country's second financial bailout in the last two years.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said that it is not possible to change the commitments the previous Greek government made for the austerity plan. But he said Greeks have the choice to leave the 17-member eurozone.

“This being said, the ultimate resolve to stay in the euro area must come from Greece itself. We are fully aware that the present situation is asking a lot of the Greek people and many sacrifices. But this is the result of policies made in the past.”

Some Greeks have said they would support a return to their former domestic currency, the drachma.

But International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde warns that Greece's exit from the eurozone would be extremely expensive and hard. Speaking on Dutch public television Wednesday, she called on Greek leaders to stick to the bailout agreement made with the IMF and the European Union.

The Greek political impasse has rattled European markets and threatens to undermine the eurozone. The issue figured high in the first official talks Tuesday between France's new president, Francois Hollande, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. During the meeting in Berlin, the two leaders said they support Greece staying in the currency union.

The economic measures include deep spending cuts, tax hikes, pension cuts and eliminating thousands of government jobs. Greeks have taken to the streets in sometimes violent protests against the bailout requirements.