Greece's New Premier Tackles Olympic Security

The president of the International Olympic Committee (search) congratulated Greece's new premier Monday and reminded rival parties of their promise that the outcome of the election would not further disrupt preparations for the summer games.

The conservative New Democracy party, led by Costas Caramanlis (search), swept the long-governing Socialists, or PASOK, from power in Sunday's elections.

The 47-year-old Caramanlis faces the immediate problem of meeting urgent deadlines for construction projects for the Aug. 13-29 Athens Olympics (search) without alienating Socialist-dominated labor unions.

Authorities have struggled to overcome years of delays and other problems in preparations for the Olympics under the Socialists, including delayed construction of the steel-and-glass roof on the main Olympic stadium, which may force officials to cancel or postpone the project.

"I want to underline that the people trusted us with their confidence. Our responsibilities are very great and we are obliged to respond to their expectations. We start work immediately," Caramanlis said after President Costis Stephanopoulos (search) gave him the mandate to form a government.

Outgoing Socialist Premier Costas Simitis (search) will stay on as caretaker until a new government is sworn in Wednesday. Caramanlis will announce his new cabinet Tuesday.

"All of us, working together, will give our best to have the best and safest Olympics ever held," Caramanlis said in his victory speech.

In congratulating Caramanlis, IOC President Jacques Rogge reminded both main parties that they gave assurances "that preparations for the Olympic games would not be negatively affected by the outcome of the elections."

The chief Greek organizer, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, met with Caramanlis late Sunday while the party was still celebrating its return to power after 11 years.

According to Greek media reports, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki is expected to be named to the new post of Olympics minister or culture minister in charge of Olympic preparations. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki is a former New Democracy legislator.

Officials at the Olympic organizing committee would not immediately comment on the speculation.

Under the Socialists, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos was in charge of Olympic preparations for the government. But the IOC had wanted an Olympics ministry that would cut red tape and coordinate all efforts for the games. Australia created an Olympics ministry for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"The new premier and his future cabinet are ready to handle the problems that exist in the Olympic games simply because, all this year, they followed the development of the Olympic works very closely," political analyst Anthony Livanios said.

With more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Caramanlis' New Democracy party defeated former Foreign Minister George Papandreou's Socialists 45.4 percent to 40.6 percent.

The result gave New Democracy 165 seats in the 300-member parliament. The Socialists received 117 seats, Greece's Communist Party got 12 and the Coalition of the Radical Left won six.

Caramanlis also will have to guide Greece in the U.N.-backed talks to reunite the war-divided island of Cyprus, which will join the European Union on May 1 along with nine other new members. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday he hoped to visit Athens for talks on Cyprus early next month.

Caramanlis has pledged a smaller administration than the Socialist cabinet. Made up of 19 ministries and 50 cabinet members, that government was considered unwieldy.

Many Olympic delays been blamed on excessive bureaucracy, and Caramanlis has promised to slash red tape, reduce and simplify taxes to boost growth, and cut an unemployment rate of about 9 percent. He has also pledged more funds for social welfare, education and health.

Caramanlis also invited Rogge to Athens for talks, a visit that could take place as early as Saturday.

Although Greece has one of the highest growth rates in the European Union — 4.7 percent — it is fueled greatly by Olympic projects. Caramanlis has complained that Greece's economy could be stronger if the Socialists had better managed EU funds aimed at improving its infrastructure.

Other promises include cleaning up public finances, tainted by allegations of corruption, by appointing corporate-style managers at government agencies and creating an independent authority to oversee state contracts.

Caramanlis also has tried to tread a fine line with the civil service and broader public sector, which employs hundreds of thousands.

Socialist-dominated labor unions are almost certain to stage strikes if Caramanlis tries to purge a bureaucracy bloated by party appointees in the past 20 years.

"He lacks the luxury of a grace period," columnist Pantelis Boukalas wrote in the respected Athens daily Kathimerini. "Sometimes, handling victory is harder than achieving it."