Hopes falter as talks enter final stages
THE only leader standing between Greece and potentially devastating new elections said he had "very little hope" as he entered last-ditch talks with the country's president yesterday.
Fotis Kouvelis, head of the small Democratic Left grouping, was the last of seven party chiefs to meet President Carolos Papoulias as he searched for a government that could save Greece's EU bailout deal.
The late-night meeting was seen as the final chance to avert new polls next month that would strengthen the hold of the anti-bailout forces, bring Greece's likely exit from the euro and cause possible turmoil across the EU.
Greece's government has been paralysed since last Sunday's election, when voters rejected the established pro-bailout parties, Pasok and New Democracy, in favour of a constellation of smaller groups which want to tear up the deal.
Democratic Left, which won 6pc of the votes and 19 seats, suggested last week that it would be prepared to join a coalition including the established parties. But it later backtracked, saying it would not be part of any government that did not include the largest anti-bailout grouping, Syriza.
Mr Kouvelis said yesterday that any coalition government should "immediately" cancel legislation that slashed the minimum wage and facilitated layoffs, and start to "disengage" Greece from the unpopular EU-IMF rescue package.
"I harbour doubts on whether a deal will emerge . . . I have very little hope," Mr Kouvelis said.
A Democratic Left spokesman angrily attacked claims from Syriza that it had agreed to join an emergency government with the pro-bailout parties. "This is a disgrace, a slander and a lie," the spokesman said.
Syriza's leader, Alexis Tsipras, rejected the president's appeal to work with the pro-bailout parties at his meeting yesterday.
"They are not asking for agreement, they are asking us to be their partners in crime and we will not be their accomplices," said Mr Tsipras, who has become an overnight sensation since leading Syriza -- an acronym for Radical Left Coalition -- to a surprise second place in last week's vote.
Polls show that Syriza would come first in any new election, though its predicted vote share has fallen over the last week.
The other leader at the morning talks -- Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos -- said he was holding on to hopes that a deal could still be salvaged, but warned time was running out. If a coalition cannot be agreed by Wednesday, the president will be forced to call a fresh election.
"The moment of truth has come. We either form a government or we go to elections," said Mr Venizelos.
Meanwhile, officials in both Paris and Berlin were last night trying to dampen down expectations before the first encounter tomorrow between a newly installed French President and an increasingly beleaguered German Chancellor.
Almost the first act of President Francois Hollande, after he takes the oath of office in Paris tomorrow morning, will be to fly to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel. Europe-watchers will be scrutinising the proceedings to see if new Franco-German axis to replace "Merkozy" be a French-dominated "Homer" or a German dominated "Merklande". (© Daily Telegraph, London)