World

Greek Judge Appointed Caretaker PM Up To Elections

Judge Vassiliki Thanou

Greece's top Supreme Court judge was named caretaker prime minister on Thursday to lead the country to elections next month, ending a week of political deadlock after leftist leader Alexis Tsipras resigned.

Vassiliki Thanou, an anti-austerity advocate who has argued against wage cuts for judges and court officials, will be sworn in as the country's first female prime minister at 8 p.m. local (1700 GMT). Her administration will take office on Friday, when Sept. 20 is expected to be set as the election date.

Her appointment ends a week of fruitless negotiations as top opposition party leaders took turns in attempting to form a government, exercising a constitutional right that takes effect if a prime minister resigns within a year of being elected.

The process dragged on for a week as the main conservative opposition and then the far-left Popular Unity party both used their allotted three days in full despite having no chance of success, hoping to delay the election.

The conservatives said all must be done to avoid a new round of elections that Greece did not need.

Popular Unity leader Panagiotis Lafazanis - who broke his rebel far-left faction away from Tsipras's Syriza party last week, taking a sixth of its lawmakers with him - used his three days to air his anti-bailout message before handing back the mandate on Thursday.

Tsipras remains hugely popular in Greece despite making a U-turn to accept a bailout program, and opposition parties feel a longer campaign period offers a better chance of denting his popularity as austerity cuts from the bailout start kicking in.

NO COOPERATION

No major polls have been published in recent weeks but Syriza is expected to once again emerge as the biggest party in parliament when the snap election is held. But Tsipras is not expected to secure an absolute majority, forcing him to find a coalition partner, failing which a second round of elections could be held.

In an interview with Alpha TV on Wednesday, Tsipras stood by previous comments that his party would not cooperate with New Democracy and the Socialist PASOK, which took turns ruling Greece for decades before Syriza swept to power this year.

He also ruled out a tie-up with the new centrist To Potami party that espouses a strong pro-euro message, effectively leaving his current coalition partner - the right-wing Independent Greeks - as the only potential ally.

"Our differences are very significant," Tsipras said. "I believe all these three parties express the old party system. Certainly, I will not be the prime minister."

The comments prompted criticism from opposition figures on Thursday, who accused Tsipras of blackmailing voters with the dilemma of choosing either him or facing a political deadlock.

"Yesterday Mr. Tsipras made a huge provocation, saying to citizens whatever you vote I will not cooperate," Stavros Theodorakis, leader of To Potami, told Mega TV.

"...In other words what? Elections again in October, if the Independent Greeks do not make it to parliament?"

(By Renee Maltezou and Deepa Babington; Writing by Deepa Babington; editing by John Stonestreet)

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