Greece's Tsipras Accuses EU, Merkel Of Gambling With People's Lives

Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece's far-left Syriza coalition that came in second in last week's indecisive Parliament elections, has accused the European Union and German Chancellor Angela Merkel of "playing poker with people's life" by insisting the implementation painful austerity measures agreed earlier by Greece under previous bailout deals.

Tsipras was quoted as saying in a BBC interview on Wednesday that the "disease of austerity destroys Greece, it will spread to the rest of Europe." He added that the "European leadership and especially Mrs Merkel need to stop playing poker with the lives of people."

Hours earlier, it was agreed at a meeting of political party leaders convened by President Karolos Papoulias to hold fresh elections on June 17. Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the chief judge of Greece's top administrative court, was named as the Prime Minister of an interim government tasked with the responsibility of leading the country to the elections. However, the caretaker government does not have the powers to take any internationally binding decisions.

The development was forced after a second round of negotiations held by the country's leading political parties under the mediation of President Papoulias on Tuesday failed to reach an agreement on forming a coalition government. Talks held on Monday between the center-right New Democracy, the socialist Pasok as well as the moderate Democratic left parties ended in deadlock shortly after they began at the presidential palace.

Coalition negotiations followed fractured results from the May 6 Parliament election in which no single party managed to secure a clear majority to form a government on its own. Separate attempts by the New Democracy, Syriza and Pasok to form a coalition government ended in failure. Wile the New Democracy emerged with the most number of seats from the election, the Syriza and Pasok came in second and third.

Recent polls suggest a new election could deliver an equally fragmented Parliament, with left-wing coalition Syriza, which opposes the government's austerity measures for securing a bailout, becoming the largest party. Tsipras had indicated on Monday that his party would not participate in coalition negotiations with other Greek political parties that back earlier austerity deals agreed in exchange for bailout loans.

Syriza also wants to renegotiate earlier bailout deals reached with the EU, ECB and the IMF. But Germany has already rejected that demand, with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble reiterating his country's stand on Wednesday that "this is an aid program that was prepared down to the last detail," and no changes can be discussed.

The latest developments have triggered doubts about Greece's continued membership in the 17-member eurozone that uses the euro as its common currency. Greece risks exiting the eurozone if the country elects an anti-bailout government in the forthcoming elections. Moreover, Eurozone nations have already warned that Greece would get further disbursements of the bailout loan only if it manages to put a stable government in place and continues to implement austerity programs agreed under the bailout deal.

Nevertheless, new French President Francois Hollande and the German Chancellor said after their talks in Berlin on Tuesday that they wanted Greece to remain in the eurozone. They also pledged to help promote economic growth in Greece if Athens honors previous agreements that require implementation of painful austerity measures in exchange for bailout loans.

Greece had agreed in March to implement further austerity programs demanded in exchange for a joint EUR 130 billion bailout from the EU, the ECB and the IMF. In addition, Greece had earlier availed a joint EU-IMF 110-billion-euro rescue loan in May 2010, of which several tranches have been handed out to Athens.

In return for these two loans, Greece had agreed to implement painful and hugely unpopular austerity measures, including reduction of government spending, slashing of public sector jobs, pension reforms, privatization of loss-making government-owned companies as well as increasing existing taxes and enforcing new ones.

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