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Greek opposition leader battling for PM spot - but who is he?

Some background info on the man pushing for power as PM Papandreou steps back.

Antonis Samaras leaving the Greece's Presidential Palace on Sunday.
Antonis Samaras leaving the Greece's Presidential Palace on Sunday.
Image: AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis/PA Images

AFTER ALMOST A WEEK of ‘will he, won’t he’, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has agreed to step down to facilitate the creation of a new national unity government until elections can be held early next year.

One of the main contenders aiming to step forward and fill the PM’s position today is opposition leader Antonis Samaras – but who is he? Here’s some background on the man who may become the next Greek PM:

  • Former economist Samaras is the current leader of the centre-right conservative party New Democracy.
  • Born in 1951, he studied at Athens College before heading to the US for an undergraduate degree in economics at the Economics University of Amherst and an MBA at Harvard.
  • He and Papandreou were close friends during their time studying at Amherst together, according to MSNBC.
  • He was first elected to parliament in 1977 and served as the minister for finance and minister of foreign affairs in the 80s and 90s. He was taken off the foreign affairs portfolio in 1992 over a controversy surrounding Greece’s opposition to the name of neighbouring country Macedonia.
  • Samaras subsequently set up a rival party and the Greek government collapsed in 1993 when several MPs left it for Samaras’ new party.
  • However, he later rejoined New Democracy and was elected an MEP for the party in 2004, but resigned this when re-elected to parliament in 2007. He became his party’s president almost two years ago.
  • He was highly critical of the latest EU debt deal for Greece, saying: ”We are not closer to the solution, but are faced with nine more years of collapse and poverty. Neither the economy nor society can withstand this.”

More recently, Samaras has been particularly prominent in calling for Papandreou’s resignation, saying that the way the prime minister handled the referendum proposal showed he does not understand how to handle such serious issues either domestically or internationally.

Papandreou and Samaras are meeting today to iron out the details on a joint agreement to form a caretaker government until an election in mid-February.

- Additional reporting by the AP

Read more: Greek leaders continue talks, with only five weeks worth of cash left >

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