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Greek socialists grab four more years

September 22, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT)

ATHENS, Greece (CNN) - Greece's socialist Prime Minister Costas Simitis won his first big political gamble Sunday, handily holding off opposition conservatives in early national elections.

Simitis' win gives him full control over the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), a free hand to name a cabinet of his choice and four years to implement his reform policies.

"Thank you for the mandate you gave the Panhellenic Socialist Movement and me personally. Today the Greek people showed that they wanted to walk down a new path," Simitis told a crowd of cheering supporters, after claiming victory.

With interior ministry figures showing the socialists gaining an insuperable lead, conservative New Democracy Party leader Miltiades Evert quickly faced the inevitable and conceded defeat.

"I want to congratulate Mr. Simitis for his victory and I hope he can overcome Greece's problems," said Evert, former Athens mayor.

"I personally undertake the responsibility for my party's defeat. I resign from the presidency of New Democracy," he said.

Differences between the two major parties were few, and they were running close in the pre-election polls. Both favored continuing austerity measures meant to bring Greece's economy in line with its European Union partners.

It was a personal as well as professional victory for Simitis. It was his party's first election without legendary party founder and three-time prime minister Andreas Papandreou.

Simitis, 60, took over from the ailing Papandreou in January and rose to be socialist party president in June after Papandreou died.

Capital celebrations

Cars zipped through Athens with horns blaring and white and green PASOK banners flying. Fireworks lit the capital skies, and people danced in the streets.

Champagne flowed at PASOK party headquarters in central Athens into the early hours of Monday. PASOK officials threw red roses and carnations, symbols of socialism, into the crowd.

Across town, in the New Democracy headquarters, only a few dozen people remained, arguing about what went wrong and expressing concern about the party's future.

Stands with wine and sweets, put up earlier in the day to help opposition voters celebrate, quietly disappeared.


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