Greece appoints 1st female prime minister ahead of snap poll

Alexis Tsipras
Outgoing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras listens to the Archbishop of Albania during their meeting in Athens, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. Tsipras resigned on Thursday, Aug. 20 following a rebellion in his party over Greece's new bailout, which saw dozens of Syriza lawmakers dissent when the deal came to a vote in Parliament. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s first female prime minister, a top judge, was sworn in Thursday to head a caretaker government ahead of early elections next month in the bailout-dependent country.

Supreme Court head Vassiliki Thanou, 65, was appointed after radical left Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned, seeking a stronger mandate to implement tough austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors in return for a third bailout worth 86 billion euro ($97 billion).

Her main task will be to hold the reins until a new government emerges from the vote expected on Sept. 20.

“But, given the circumstances … I believe that this government will also have to handle crucial matters,” Thanou said in her first public comments in office, singling out for mention Greece’s immigration crisis.

Since January, the financially struggling country has received more than 160,000 mainly Syrian refugees and economic migrants — a record number — who arrive in boats from Turkey before heading to wealthier European countries.

Tsipras was forced to step down last week, barely seven months into his four-year term, following a rebellion in his radical left Syriza party over his agreement to the new income cuts and tax hikes.

Syriza hardliners were furious that Tsipras signed the deal with even harsher terms than those he had vowed to abolish when he was elected in January. The deal was approved with support from pro-European opposition parties, who now accuse him of rushing to call elections before voters are hit by the full force of the new tax measures.

The 41-year-old outgoing prime minister has argued he was left with no choice but to accept European creditors’ demands, to save Greece from defaulting on its debts and being forced out of the euro currency it shares with another 18 European nations.

Thanou will appoint a Cabinet that will be sworn in on Friday, when the election date will be formally confirmed.

Greek President Procopis Pavlopoulos announced her appointment after parliament’s three largest parties failed to find willing coalition partners. The last to hold the mandate to form a government was former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who created the new Popular Unity party last week after splitting from Syriza.

Greece has relied on funds from two bailouts by other European countries and the International Monetary Fund totaling nearly 240 billion euros ($270 billion) since 2010. In return for the loans, successive governments imposed deeply resented spending cuts that slashed incomes by more than a third, deepened a dire recession and pushed unemployment well over 25 percent.

The second bailout expired earlier this year, and Tsipras insisted he could negotiate a better deal for his country. But the talks with creditors floundered and eventually collapsed in June, with Tsipras calling a referendum and urging Greeks to vote against creditor demands. They overwhelmingly did so, but the prime minister eventually signed up to even stricter demands in return for the third, three-year rescue loan agreement.

Despite his about-face on policies, Tsipras is expected to win the next election although it’s unclear whether he will secure enough parliamentary seats to govern alone. He has ruled out a coalition with any of the centrist opposition parties: center-right New Democracy, the socialist PASOK party or the small centrist To Potami party.

Unless other smaller parties manage to enter Parliament, that would leave his current coalition partner, the nationalist Independent Greeks — which, however, may struggle to cross the 3 percent parliamentary threshold.

Tsipras is not expected to form a government with the new Popular Unity party, the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn, whose leader and lawmakers still face criminal charges, or the communist KKE party.

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