Greek prime minister drops threat of early election

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image captionMr Papandreou says he wants to be sure he has popular support

Greece's prime minister has dropped his threat to call a snap general election, after his Socialist party avoided a heavy defeat in crucial regional polls.

George Papandreou said Greeks had shown they wanted his government to press ahead with its austerity programme.

With 45% of votes counted, his Pasok party and the opposition New Democracy party are each ahead in six out of 13 regions. The last is too close to call.

Mr Papandreou had said he would dissolve parliament if Pasok did badly.

Nearly 10 million people were legally required to vote in Sunday's first round of regional elections for 13 governors and 325 mayors, but turnout was estimated by officials to have been only 60%.

Second round run-off elections will be held on 14 November.

'Not easy'

According to partial results, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) was leading in the regions of Greater Athens - where a third of Greece's population resides - Western Greece, Central Greece, Eastern Macedonia, Crete and the Southern Aegean.

New Democracy was ahead in Central Macedonia, Western Macedonia, the Northern Aegean, Epirus, Thessaly, and the Ionian Islands.

Both parties were neck-and-neck in the Peloponnese region.

In a televised address earlier on Sunday, Mr Papandreou said Greeks had shown they wanted his government to continue its reform programme, aimed at reducing the deficit and national debt.

"We know that change is not easy. But it was for this change that the Greek people brought us to power a year ago. And today it again confirmed that it wants this change," he said.

"We will continue with our task tomorrow."

The premier had earlier warned he might call a snap general election if his party suffered big losses.

Mr Papandreou's gamble has paid off and his warning convinced enough people to back his party, the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says.

However voters many stayed away and the outcome is hardly a ringing endorsement of his austerity programme, he adds.

The Socialists have a comfortable enough majority in parliament to continue for the next three years.

The decision not to call a general election will please the International Monetary Fund and financial markets, which had become nervous at the prospect of political instability in Greece, our correspondent says.

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