Last ditch attempts to form coalition in crisis-struck Greece
GREECE’S former finance minister and socialist party head Evangelos Venizelos has met election winner Antonis Samaras, the conservative leader, in a last-ditch effort to form a coalition government in the crisis-struck country.
Both leaders, who did not make statements after their meeting, know that a failure to agree a deal could see Greece hold fresh elections next month that could put the country's membership of the euro at risk.
Though suffering a big loss in support, New Democracy won the most votes in the elections, but fell short of an outright majority.
Mr Venizelos' PASOK party was hammered by furious voters, who blame it for its handling of the financial crisis. PASOK's third place was its worst electoral showing in nearly 40 years.
Even if they agree, they do not hold enough seats in parliament combined to form a government unless another party joins them.
Election runner-up Alexis Tsipras, whose Radical Left Coalition made massive gains to come in second in Sunday's vote, has insisted he cannot participate in any government that wants to continue with the harsh austerity that is a condition for Greece's international bailout.
The country has been dependent since May 2010 on billions of euro of rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. In return for the funds that are keeping Greece functioning, Athens has imposed repeated rounds of spending cuts and tax hikes, leaving the country mired in the fifth year of recession, and the jobless rate increasing by hundreds of people each day.
Both Mr Samaras and Mr Venizelos claim Mr Tsipras' demands that terms of the bailout agreement be cancelled would lead to disaster, with Greece being forced out of the euro.
Mr Tsipras, whose party won 52 seats in the 300-member Parliament, insists European leaders could be persuaded to see that the formula of the bailout is not working, and is ruining the country's chances of recovery.
There was a glimmer of hope for a coalition deal, after Mr Venizelos met Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of a smaller left-wing party whose 19 seats in the 300-member parliament would be more than enough to form a government if added to New Democracy's 108 seats and PASOK's 41.