ATHENS, Greece — Pressure mounted on Greece's two main political parties on Wednesday to wrap up three days of critical power-sharing talks and name a new prime minister to take over at the helm of an interim government.
Over the past couple of days, attention has focused more on Rome than on Athens amid concerns that Italy's economy was heading the same way as Greece's. The fear that Italy is running out of time to get a handle on its debts hit markets in Europe hard Wednesday even though Italy's Premier Silvio Berlusconi pledged to stand down, echoing a similar decision from Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Greek officials defended the time it was taking for the new unity government to be established. Greece's big two political parties, the Socialist PASOK party and the conservative New Democracy, are renowned for their opposition to each other and have rarely worked together since the rejection of the monarchy in 1974.
Papandreou was due to meet with Greece's president at 5:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) — but the meeting was delayed by an hour to 6:00 p.m., the president's office said. No reason for the delay was given.
However, a person with close knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press that no decision had been finalized an hour before the meeting had originally been scheduled for. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.
Papandreou's office said the premier spoke by telephone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday morning and discussed "the developments in Europe and the eurozone," as well as the power-sharing negotiations in Athens.
Papandreou informed the French president "of the imminent (formation) of a new government in Greece supported by the majority and the opposition," Sarkozy's office said.
Former European Central Bank vice president Lucas Papademos had been widely tipped as the strongest candidate for interim prime minister. But two officials from the main parties said that by Wednesday afternoon another strong candidate had emerged — current Parliament speaker and former justice and public order minister Philippos Petsalnikos.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because a final decision had not been made.
By early afternoon, the conservative opposition was issuing angry statements demanding a swift conclusion to the talks, and blaming the embarassing delay on the current government.
"The solution is in the hands of Mr. Papandreou," said a statement from the New Democracy party. "No further delay is conceivable. We must finally finish this."
Earlier, deputy government spokesman Angelos Tolkas had said the new government would be announced later in the day, but gave no indication who the new prime minister would be. Similar comments had been made on Tuesday, too.
"This process is new to the country," Tolkas told television channel Skai in the morning. "So I think three days was a reasonable time for the consultations to be made and for each side to make the necessary concession."
On Tuesday, Papandreou's ministers offered their resignations as part of the process of creating the new government, which is only expected to last until February when early elections are to be held.
The new government will be tasked to secure the country's new €130 billion ($179 billion) European rescue package and then get it through parliament. That approval will allow the release of a €8 billion ($11 billion) loan installment from its existing bailout. Without the funds, Greece will go bankrupt before Christmas, potentially wrecking Europe's banking system and sending the global economy back into recession.
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