October 2, 2009 / 7:43 PM / 10 years ago

Greek PM Karamanlis makes last appeal to voters

ATHENS, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Friday made a final appeal to Greeks to return him to power in this weekend’s election so he can deal with an economic crisis.

Closing a month-long election campaign, Karamanlis, who is trailing in opinion polls, told a crowd of about 20,000 supporters that his socialist contender’s promises were disastrous for the economy.

“On Sunday we decide with responsibility for our families and for our country,” he told a rally in Athens, where supporters waved a sea of New Democracy party blue and white flags. “We are the ones who will lead Greece out of the crisis.”

Karamanlis, 53, called snap polls half way through his four-year term, asking for a fresh mandate to deal with the economy as Greece teetered on the brink of recession after years of steady 4 percent growth.

He has pledged two years of austerity, with a state wage and hiring freeze, to cut the deficit and a ballooning public debt in the euro zone’s weakest link.

Opposition socialist PASOK party leader George Papandreou, 57, has promised to tax the rich, support the poor and pour a 3 billion euro ($4.36 billion) stimulus package into the economy. Police estimated his main Athens rally on Thursday gathered about 40,000 people.

Karamanlis, whose government had steadily declined in opinion polls as a result of scandals and misfired economic measures, told voters the socialist plan was dubious.

“PASOK and its leader promise unrealistic things, which if applied, would put a huge burden on people and bring the economy to a dead end,” Karamanlis told cheering crowds as fireworks lit up the sky.

The socialists lead in opinion polls but are not certain to win enough votes to form a government. Analysts say Karamanlis’s only chance of stopping PASOK from winning outright is to rally conservative voters who might stay away from the polls.

“We have been fighting together for years,” he told supporters on Friday. “We are proud of our battles and we will continue to fight with the same passion.”

Should no party win outright, a repeat election is likely and would mean weeks of further political gridlock at a time when Greece needs to draft a budget and push through difficult economic measures.

Karamanlis was elected in 2004 on a pledge to clean up politics after decades of socialist scandals. But his government was itself shaken by graft.

During his speech on Friday, a small, home-made time bomb exploded one block behind his podium, causing minor damage but no injures. An unknown caller warned of the attack, which was apparently aimed at the election rally, said a police official who requested anonymity.

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