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Europe

Greek Conservatives Win Election

Greece's opposition conservatives won the country's general election on Sunday, ending over a decade of rule by the Socialists.

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Costas Karamanlis led the conservative New Democracy party to victory.

Greek voters decided to send the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) packing by giving the opposition New Democracy party led by Costas Karamanlis a resounding victory.

With 97 percent of votes counted, the conservatives were heading for 165 seats in the 300-member parliament and 45.5 percent of the vote, according to Reuters. The Socialists won around 40 percent of the vote. Under the Greek electoral system, the winning party takes the lion's share of seats.

The election is being regarded as one of the most important in modern history. Aside from a three-year break, PASOK has ruled the country since 1981. But Greeks have become disenchanted with the Socialists in recent years amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement. This time they opted for New Democracy and Karamanlis, a 47-year-old U.S.-educated lawyer, who is the nephew of a former Greek prime minister.

The change in government comes only months ahead of Athens hosting the Olympic Games, which has been plagued by construction delays, security concerns and other problems. Karamanlis said he would make those issues a priority.

"We must make the best efforts so the Olympic Games are the best and safest ever held. It is a great opportunity for Greece to show its modern face," he said, according to Reuters.

Karamanlis promises change

Karamanlis has promised to slash bureaucracy and he wants tax cuts to fuel growth and cut an unemployment rate of about 9 percent. Although Greece has one of the highest growth rates in the European Union, at 4.7 percent, it is inflated by Olympic projects. Karamanlis has also complained that Greece's economy could be stronger if the Socialists had better managed EU funds aimed at improving its infrastructure.

Karamanlis will also have to tackle difficult talks on the future of Cyprus, which remains split into Greek and Turkish halves. The Greek side is due to join the European Union in May.

Wahlen Griechenland Sozialistenführer George Papandreou Wahlurne

Greek socialist leader George Papandreou, center, casts his vote in a polling station in Larissa, central Greece on Sunday March 7, 2004.

Former Foreign Minister George Papandreou, like Karamanlis the scion of another important Greek political family, was able to claw back some of the conservatives lead in recent weeks, but not enough to prevent the conservative New Democracy (ND) from taking over.

Although Papandreou remains popular in Greece, he came to the election campaign late as outgoing Premier Costas Simitis handed him the PASOK leadership. Simitis and other top members of the Socialist party are being blamed for torpedoing Papandreou's chances of retaining power.

Parties need at least three percent of the vote to enter parliament. The Greek Communist Party is expected to clear the threshold, and the Left Coalition is struggling to retain a seat. Some exit polls also showed a rise in votes for the ultra-nationalist and anti-immigrant party, Laos.

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