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October 7, 2009

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Greece swears in Socialist leader

GREECE'S Socialist leader George Papandreou was sworn in as prime minister yesterday, after trouncing the conservatives in a landslide election victory won on promises of reviving the country's faltering economy.

Papandreou, a 57-year-old former foreign minister, follows in the footsteps of his father Andreas and grandfather and namesake George, both of whom served several terms as prime ministers.

He was sworn in by Greece's Orthodox Church leader Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens during a brief ceremony at the presidential mansion. He then walked to the neighboring prime ministerial office for the hand-over from outgoing Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who has run the country for the last five years.

Karamanlis resigned on Sunday as leader of the New Democracy party after its worst election defeat ever -- 33.48 percent of the vote compared to 43.92 percent for the Socialist PASOK party.

Papandreou will announce his ministerial appointments this week, and is expected to create a much leaner Cabinet than Karamanlis' outgoing one. One of the anticipated changes is likely to be the creation of a separate environmental ministry, particularly resonant in a country ravaged by a series of devastating forest fires in recent years.

But arguably the new prime minister's top priority will be reforming the ailing economy, which is expected to contract this year after years of growth.

Papandreou offered a radically different solution from that of Karamanlis. Instead of the conservatives' pledge to cut spending, he proposed a stimulus package of up to 3 billion euros (US$4.4 billion), giving public sector workers above-inflation pay raises and boosting infrastructure investment.


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