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Athens votes in Socialist party for first time in 24 years

Greece’s ruling Socialists emerged victorious on Monday in several local elections, including winning the mayoral race in Athens, providing Prime Minister George Papandreou (pictured) with a much-needed boost amid persistent economic woes.



AP - Greece’s governing Socialists emerged the winner of local government elections, despite a record low turnout and renewed pressure on the crisis-hit nation to impose a new round of drastic spending cuts.
With 99.6 percent of the vote counted nationwide, the Socialists won mayoral races in Athens and Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, for the first time in 24 years.
Its candidates won eight of 13 races for regional governor, including greater Athens _ giving Prime Minister George Papandreou a badly needed boost amid recession and rising unemployment.
Most races were decided in Sunday’s runoffs, after a first round of voting on Nov. 7.
Results came in hours before the European Union was expected to announce an upward revision in Greek deficit figures, pushing back months of hard-earned fiscal progress. And officials from the EU and International Monetary Fund were due in Athens to inspect Greece’s implementation of the ¤110 billion ($150 billion) loan agreement that rescued Greece from bankruptcy.
Amid subdued celebrations, Papandreou visited Athens’ mayor-elect Giorgos Kaminis, a mild-mannered outsider who had been written off by pundits at the start of the campaign.
Voters, the prime minister said, had turned their back “on cries of destabilization” from opposition parties, who all campaigned against the EU-IMF deal.
“Today the citizens have shown the way forward as we proceed on our course,” he said.
Papandreou promised his 13-month-old government would serve out its four-year term, after dropping a threat last week to call an early general election unless the public backed his reforms.
“We have been given ... precious time to change in the next three years what hasn’t been done in decades,” he said.
Voter turnout Sunday hit record lows with just 34 percent in Athens and 47 percent nationally _ figures that opposition parties argued revealed popular discontent with the government.
“Voters have called on the government to change course, away from policies that have suffocated the economy and plunged society into despair,” conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras said.
He pointed to party gains across northern Greece and victory and Athens’ main port of Piraeus, as sign the conservatives had recovered from a heavy general election defeat last year.
Socialist-dominated labor unions appeared unimpressed by the government’s win, with officials saying they would go ahead with plans to hold a general strike next month.
“The reforms so far have been unfair and one-sided, even cutting pay for low-income pensioners,” said Yiannis Panagopoulos, leader of Greece’s largest union, the GSEE.
“No one is staying up to see which party came out stronger ... They just want to know whether these injustices will continue, or if something will change.”


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