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Greek opposition leader concedes defeat

September 22, 1996
Web posted at: 4:05 p.m. EDT (2005 GMT)

ATHENS, Greece (CNN) -- Greek opposition leader Miltiades Evert, former mayor of Athens, conceded defeat in national elections Sunday. He promptly resigned as head of the conservative New Democracy Party. Greece's ruling socialists led the opposition conservatives in the initial official figures, the interior ministry said. "I take personal responsibility for the election result. I resign as president of the (conservative) party," Evert said in a brief televised statement.

Prime Minister Costas Simitis' Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) led Evert's New Democracy Party by about 42 percent to 39 percent in early exit polling. If the margin holds, PASOK will have more than 159 deputies in Greece's 300-member Parliament, said Antenna channel.

PASOK currently holds 170 seats in the Parliament.

With results from 707 out of 17,710 polling stations counted, acting Interior Minister Vassilis Kouris said the incumbents had 42.8 percent of the vote, and the opposition 39.8 percent. "This difference is not reversible and it will probably widen," Kouris said in a television announcement.

Simitis, 60, called for the elections last month, a year early, because he wanted a mandate for his economic strategy. At the time that mandate seemed assured, but a lackluster campaign left Simitis' party and that of Evert, 57, in a virtual dead heat.

Both Evert and Simitis favor aligning Greece with the European Union's plan to aide an ailing Greek economy, in stark contrast to previous elections dominated by flamboyant Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.

The Socialist Papandreou, who died in June after serving as prime minister from 1981 to 1989 and winning another term in 1993, held a decidedly anti-European stance throughout his career. Simitis, who served as industrial minister until he resigned over a dispute with Papandreou, took over from the ailing prime minister in January.

Pre-election polls showed unprecedented voter apathy in a country where all citizens over 18 and under 70 are required to cast a ballot. But 20 percent of the voters failed to register a party preference before voting day.

Both Simitis and Evert cast their ballots early Sunday. In a working class suburb of the port city Piraeus, Simitis said that PASOK "has the forces, the policies to lead the country to new age, to the world of the 21st century."

Voting in the village of Tavri in northeastern Greece, Evert said the voters would speak. "With their vote they shape our country's future," he said.

While the New Democracy Party and PASOK are expected to take the majority of votes cast in the election, four smaller parties are expected to gain enough votes to win seats in Parliament.

In the 1993 elections, the Political Spring nationalist party and the Greek Communist Party topped 3 percent of the vote, required to gain seats in the legislative body. Polls indicated that the Left Coalition leftist party and DIKKI, founded by former socialist finance minister Dimitris Tsovolas, were also likely to pass the 3 percent mark.

The polls close at sunset Sunday, and preliminary results and projections were expected later Sunday evening.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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