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Greece calls May general election

Greece is to hold an early general election on May 6.

Prime minister Lucas Papademos confirmed that he would formally request the election from President Karolos Papoulias.

Mr Papademos, a 64-year-old former vice president of the European Central Bank, was appointed prime minister in November and spent the next five months pushing through harsh austerity measures in order to secure a vital international bailout and a major debt relief deal with banks.

His government was backed by the majority Socialists and their main rivals, the conservative New Democracy party.

"The main goals of our government were achieved," Mr Papademos told a Cabinet meeting.

Opposition conservatives reached the power-sharing agreement with the majority Socialist Pasok party in November after parliamentary opposition to austerity measures brought the previous government of Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou to the brink of collapse.

The two traditionally dominant parties have seen their popular support hammered as Greeks endure a fifth year of recession and suffer repeated rounds of wage and benefit cuts as the unemployment rate surged to 2 %.

The conservative New Democracy party, led by former Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras, is leading in the opinion polls for the next election. However, the polls suggest it will not receive enough votes to form a government and would have to seek another coalition with the Socialists, as smaller parties fiercely oppose the terms of bailout agreements.

Mr Samaras' main opponent, Evangelos Venizelos, resigned as finance minister on March 19 to run in the election as leader of the Pasok party.

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