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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Greek Premier Sets Early Elections

ATHENS -- President Costis Stephanopoulos on Friday signed a decree dissolving parliament ahead of early elections after Premier Costas Simitis said he wanted to renew his Socialist government's mandate at a time of economic and foreign challenges.

"At this moment there is the major issue of how Greece will face the challenges of European unification, of developments in the Balkans, of the Turkish threat, of the need to modernize society," Simitis told Stephanopoulos.

The president's decree scheduled elections for Sept. 22 and the first session of the resulting parliament for Oct. 7. The government's four-year mandate had been scheduled to expire in the fall of 1997.

"We believe that the country's interests demand that we have a government with the mandate to take all the measures and decisions necessary for the country to go ahead quickly," Simitis said. "I do not believe that Greece should wait. Our future should not wait," he said in comments aired on national television.

The cabinet and the ruling party's executive committee decided Thursday to hold early elections.

Stephanopoulos' post is mostly ceremonial, and he is unaffected by the national elections. His agreement with the premier's proposal was a formality.

The Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK, holds a comfortable majority with 170 seats in the 300-member unicameral Parliament following elections in late 1993. The Socialists also governed from 1981 to 1989.

Simitis, a 60-year-old economist, was elected to the post of premier by PASOK deputies in January, replacing party founder Andreas Papandreou after he fell ill.

After Papandreou's death in June, Simitis was elected to the post of party leader at a congress, during which he promised that he would see out the full term.

The government's economics ministers, however, had pressed for elections to be held before the 1997 state budget proposal is presented to Parliament in November. They are expected to propose a continuation of strict austerity aimed at bringing Greece's economy in line with its European Union partners by the end of the decade.

Relations with neighboring NATO ally Turkey have been tense in recent months over the divided island republic of Cyprus and territorial rights in the Aegean Sea area. It is also likely that Simitis chose to hold snap elections because of the strong support voters have shown for him in opinion polls, with a recent approval rating of more than 70 percent.

His main challenger, Miltiades Evert, who leads the conservative New Democracy party, lags far behind and even behind a few members of his own party.