Greeks agree coalition government without Papandreou

George Papandreou at emergency cabinet meeting, 6 November 2011
Image caption George Papandreou had already made clear his willingness to step aside

Greek leaders at crisis talks in Athens have agreed to form a new national unity government, the president's office says.

Beleaguered Prime Minister George Papandreou has agreed to stand down and his successor will be chosen during talks on Monday, a statement said.

The coalition is to lead the country until elections, which could be held on 19 February, the finance ministry said.

The announcement followed a week of turmoil over Greece's debt crisis.

Once the new leader is named, Mr Papoulias will invite parties to join the new government, according to the statement from the president's office.

The plan envisages elections once the government approves an EU bailout package.

Talks between Mr Papandreou and main opposition leader Antonis Samaras were hosted by President Karolos Papoulias on Sunday evening.

Mr Papandreou had been trying to build a national unity government to replace his Pasok party administration, but Mr Samaras, of the New Democracy party, had been refusing to negotiate unless his rival resigned first.

The two men also disagreed sharply on the timing of new elections, with Mr Papandreou seeking a delay of several months while Mr Samaras wanted them immediately.

There has been speculation that the new coalition could be led by current Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos or by Lukas Papademos, a former deputy president of the European Central Bank.

A Greek government spokesman a new administration would be sworn in and a confidence vote held within a week if all went well.

"Today was a historic day for Greece," Ilias Mossialos said.

A spokesman for the New Democracy party said it was "absolutely satisfied" with the outcome of the talks.

"Our two targets, for Mr Papandreou to resign and for elections to be held, have been met," the New Democracy spokesman told AP news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

At a late-night meeting on Sunday, Mr Venizelos met opposition members and agreed that 19 February would be the most suitable date for elections, according to a finance ministry statements.

However few other details have emerged, such as how quickly the bailout deal might be approved.

Referendum plan

Mr Papandreou narrowly won a confidence vote on Friday, but had been under continuing pressure to resign amid chaos over the debt crisis.

The fresh bailout deal was agreed by the European Union last month, but Mr Papandreou faced the wrath of fellow EU leaders when he announced that he would put the deal to the people of Greece in a referendum.

The idea was dropped days later, but not without sparking a deeper financial crisis and triggering the political crisis which led to the confidence vote.

The EU says no more funds will be released to Greece until the new bailout deal has been approved.

It gives the government 130bn euros (£111bn; $178bn) and imposes a 50% write-off on private holders of Greek debts, in return for deeply unpopular austerity measures.

The country has come under huge international pressure to resolve its political crisis, in order to calm the markets.

The possibility of Greece leaving the euro has also been raised by EU leaders, if it fails to resolve its political and financial problems.

A meeting of EU finance ministers is taking place on Monday, which added to the pressure on Greece to find an early solution to the political deadlock.

News of the crisis talks involving President Papoulias emerged after an emergency cabinet meeting led by Mr Papandreou.

Both Mr Papandreou and Mr Samaras had held separate talks with the president earlier in the weekend.