| 10.2°C Dublin

Lagarde top runner for head of the IMF

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is top of the queue as the International Monetary Fund’s new boss and is expected to get the overall majority of the board at a meeting today.

Lagarde, 55, is expected to get more backing than Mexico's central bank governor, Agustin Carstens, and become the first woman to head up the IMF.

The move will also cement Europe’s 64-year hold on the IMF job.

While Carstens will be supported by Latin America, Canada and Australia, his support is far weaker in Europe.

The 24-strong IMF board meets today to finalise a process that began in May after Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as IMF managing director to defend himself against charges of sexual assault and attempted rape – he denies these charges.

IMF board directors, who represent the fund's 187 member countries, are keen to appoint a successor that would allow them to avoid a formal vote but this could run into tomorrow.

The race has been one of the most hotly contested succession battles in IMF history.

Although a long-shot candidate, Carstens vigorously highlighted his experience as a former IMF official who had first-hand knowledge of developing world economic crises and also used the Eurozone process in his campaign.

The vote is split around the globe. Washington holds 17pc of the vote, while European nations account for around 40pc.

China and Russia have already said they back Lagarde.

The three other BRIC nations - India, South Africa and Brazil – have not yet backed a candidate.

Fears of contagion over an escalating debt crisis in Greece have played in Lagarde's favour over the last several weeks because of her political punch across Europe, IMF board officials said.

But an unresolved legal investigation into Lagarde's role in a 2008 arbitration payout to a French business has also been highlighted during her campaign

Meanwhile, Europe’s economic boss Ollie Rehn said Greece faces a major crossroads ahead of a Government vote to adopt a tough austerity programme that would release billions in loans to bailout its flailing economy.

He added this was the only “way to avoid immediate default.”

“This week Greece faces a critical juncture. Both the future of the country and financial stability in Europe are at stake,” Rehn said in a statement.

But Greek unions have started a two-day strike in protest against the cuts.

All transport will be affected while airlines and ferry departures Athens have also been hit.

More than 5,000 police have been deployed in central Athens, especially to protect parliament, the focus of weeks of protests by demonstrators who have been camping out in the nearby Syntagma Square.