Greece Announces Interim Government

After keeping a nervous world waiting for days, the squabbling politicians of debt-ridden Greece finally announced a new interim government Thursday. It will be headed by a former European Central banker, Lucas Papademos, whose main task will be to ensure that Greece meets the conditions set by its European partners to receive new loan money and avoid default. That means showing that Greece will enforce austerity measures.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And I'm Guy Raz. And we begin this hour with news out of Europe. Markets calmed today with word that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will soon be out of office and Greek politicians, at last, chose a new interim prime minister. His name is Lucas Papademos. His task, as Joanna Kakissis reports now from Athens, is to implement a painful austerity plan and save a vital bailout deal for Greece.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: You could say Greeks were relieved that Papademos, who has long been rumored as the top choice for the post, was finally named. It took days of drama and delays and lots of meetings between politicians who couldn't stand to be in the same room.

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KAKISSIS: Greeks watched in embarrassment as their dysfunctional politics played out on a world stage like some bad reality show.

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KAKISSIS: The satirical program Radio Alabila(ph) said only Chuck Norris as prime minister. But a quiet, friendly economist who understands the nuts and bolts of bailouts may be the closest thing to a savior Greece has right now.

The country must avoid default, of course, but it's also worried about being forced out of the eurozone. Papademos is 64 and has a doctorate from M.I.T. He served as vice president of the European Central Bank and when he met reporters for the first time today, he sounded optimistic.

PRIME MINISTER LUCAS PAPADEMOS: (Through translator) Greece is at a crucial crossroads. The choices that will be made right now will be of decisive importance for the prosperity ofGreek people. It won't be an easy road, but the problems, I'm convinced, will be solved. They will be solved faster if there is unity.

KAKISSIS: But can unity be found in Greece these days? Two friends were discussing just that at a trendy cafe called DaCapo in central Athens. One of them happened to be an economist at the University of Piraeus, Theodoros Pelagidis. He says the appointment of Papademos, a technocrat, will take the partisan spin out of crucial negotiations.

THEODOROS PELAGIDIS: It symbolizes the credibility that is so much absent from the political closet now in Greece. So that's why he's an important guy and that will help us negotiate and to implement the - all the measures that come with the last 26 or 37 (unintelligible) number agreement.

KAKISSIS: Meaning, those tough austerity measures Greeks have resisted. Across the table, newspaper editor Yannis Paleologos agrees that the Europeans love Papademos. And he's convinced that Papademos is the guy to save the October bailout deal that cuts Greek debt and gives the country more loans.

YANNIS PALEOLOGOS: Now, on a practical level, i.e. whether he'll be able to govern in the four months that this government's supposed to last, that's a very tricky question because he's someone who doesn't really have political experience.

KAKISSIS: Paleologos hopes Papademos is a tough enough politician to be effective.

PALEOLOGOS: And not someone who is just there for the Germans to look at in the window and feel better.

KAKISSIS: Elections could happen as early as February. The economist, Pelagidis, hopes Greece will use the time to bring out new talent in politics.

PELAGIDIS: We believe that after this four months period, we're going to have a new government, not only formed by technocrats, but also mainly by politicians, but capable enough to solve even technical problems. And not only doing the usual political tricks.

KAKISSIS: These are big hopes for a temporary government that Greeks complain they haven't even elected. And Greeks still hate those austerity measures, as the elected prime minister, George Papandreau, found out. He wished Papademos the best of luck. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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