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Greek political leaders cross swords in first debate ahead of Sept. 20 elections

from:新华网2015-09-10 10:50

GREECE-ATHENS-ELECTION-TV DEBATE

The leader of the Radical Left SYRIZA party and former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) and the head of the conservatives of New Democracy (ND) Vangelis Meimarakis wait for the start of a live televised debate at the state-run broadcaster ERT in Athens, Greece, Sept. 9, 2015. The leaders of all Greek political parties represented in the previous parliament, with the exception of the far-Right Golden Dawn, on Wednesday participate in a first TV debate ahead of the September 20 early general elections. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

by Maria Spiliopoulou

ATHENS, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- The leaders of all Greek political parties represented in the previous parliament, with the exception of the far-Right Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) party, crossed their swords on Wednesday night during a marathon televised debate ahead of the Sept. 20 general elections.

During the three-hour debate hosted at the national broadcaster ERT, former Prime Minister and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras defended his seven month government's record and called on voters to give him a second chance to complete his party's program to change Greece.

The five-year debt crisis and the proposed formulas to overcome it dominated the debate, which was the first held after six years.

"In six months the Greek government gave a difficult battle to defend Greek peoples' rights ... We managed to stabilize the economy. The fight continues. We hope to succeed in the future," Tsipras said, asked why Greeks should vote for SYRIZA after the party went back on its pre-electoral pledges.

Ahead of January's national elections SYRIZA had promised to tear up the bailouts and put an outright end to austerity.

This summer the SYRIZA-led government signed the country's third bailout in five years with international creditors that contains new harsh austerity and reforms measures in exchange of more loans over the next three years.

Tsipras has repeatedly explained that he chose the painful compromise because the alternative would be a chaotic bankruptcy and Grexit.

Following a revolt within SYRIZA by anti-bailout hardliners, he resigned in late August triggering the snap polls which according to pollsters will be too close to call.

In all recent surveys SYRIZA, in most cases, and the conservative New Democracy (ND) party hold a razor thin lead.

ND leader Vangelis Meimarakis urged Greeks to vote for his party to complete the work that was left unfinished when Greece headed to early elections in January.

"We brought investments and Tsipras chased them away," he said, stressing the need for growth-boosting policies to kick start the recession-hit economy.

Meanwhile, socialist PASOK party chief Fofi Gennimata said "If there was a Golden Raspberry Award for the economy, Mr. Tsipras would surely get it," criticizing the former premier and his government over the managing of the crisis.

Panagiotis Lafazanis, a former energy minister who now leads the newly founded anti-bailout Popular Unity party formed by SYRIZA rebels, argued in favor of Greece's return to drachma, saying that scaremongering should stop.

"It is the bailout that is catastrophic," he argued.

Panos Kammenos, leader of the Right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, the junior partner in Tsipras' seven month administration, said that Greece "should become Europe's Caribbean" by creating special economic zones.

During the debate, Tsipras defended his government's choice for a multidimensional foreign policy referring to efforts to strengthen collaboration with the BRICS member countries.

"We visited Russia and China and other BRICS member countries to explore further cooperation prospects," he said.

On the thorny issue of migration policy, for which Greece has been heavily criticized lately of lack of strategy to deal with the unprecedented inflows of refugees and migrants this year, Tsipras noted that his government had the "foresight" to create a special portfolio.

Centrist Potami (River) party head Stavros Theodorakis accused Tsipras' government of inertia on the refugee crisis, while Communist Party KKE General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas suggested that charter flights and vessels should transfer refugees reaching the Greek islands directly to their preferred destination countries in central and northern Europe.

In the first comments on the debate, political analysts in Athens and media commentators saw no big winners or losers.

The second and final televised debate between the two main contenders, Tsipras and Meimarakis, will be held on Sept. 14.

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