Sunday, October 4, 2009

Socialists win in Greece; 'hard work' ahead, Papandreou says
ATHENS, Greece- Greece's opposition Socialist party on Sunday defeated the incumbent center-right government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, as Socialist leader George Papandreou promised to chart a new course for an economic comeback.

"On this course, nothing is going to be easy -- it will take work, hard work," Papandreou said in his victory address. "And I will always be honest with the Greek people so that we may better solve the problems of the state."

Sunday's national elections were held two years before originally scheduled. Karamanlis called the elections in response to pressure from Papandreou's Panhellenic Socialist Movement of Greece, which threatened to block the election of a president in February if no general election was held. The Greek constitution requires the two major parties to agree on the election of a president, giving either party an effective veto.

Karamanlis' term was not due to expire until September 2011. But Papandreou insisted on new elections before the end of President Karolos Papoulias' term as president.

The country's ailing economy was the focus in the run up to the elections, as both candidates offered conflicting prescriptions to revive it. While Karamanlis called for cuts in spending, Papandreou proposed a massive stimulus.

Karamanlis, of the New Democracy party, congratulated Papandreou in a nationally televised concession speech.

"And like every Greek, I hope that he succeeds at the big challenge of facing up to the economic situation," Karamanlis said. "Because this challenge, I have said many times, is a national issue."

It was unclear whether Karamanlis would step down as New Democracy party leader, as the elections marked the worst defeat the party has seen in more than 20 years.

According to figures posted on the Interior Ministry's Web site, the Socialist party received 44 percent of the vote, compared wotj New Democracy's 34 percent, with 87 percent of votes counted. The margin is the largest seen in a Greek vote in decades.

The Socialist party will receive an estimated 160 seats in Greece's 300-seat Parliament, officials said, compared with New Democracy's 93 seats.

Greek state television ERT showed cheering, flag-waving crowds surrounding Papandreou as he made his way to party headquarters.

"All of the opinion polls are suggesting that Greek voters are becoming more frustrated with (Karamanlis') governance, more frustrated that after two parliamentary terms some of the objectives which he'd set have not been achieved," Kevin Featherstone, director of the London School of Economics' Hellenic Observatory, told CNN.

However, Papandreou's stimulus plan is also under scrutiny, with critics wanting to know more details, such as how it would be funded.

In addition, problems such as corruption have long plagued the Greek government, Featherstone noted.

"These are systemic problems. These are problems which have been in Greece for generations. Over the last 20 years, we've had a succession of governments coming into power promising to clean up, promising to tackle waste, promising to reform the public administration, promising to be more transparent and clean," he said. "By and large, voters have been disappointed or there has been some fair degree of frustration and disappointment."

"Tackling the problem, these endemic problems, really requires major efforts to reform public administration to tackle corruption and to change the culture of expectations," he said.

Karamanlis' conservative New Democracy party suffered a sharp setback in European elections in June, when the Socialists matched New Democracy's tally of eight seats, with 36 percent of the vote.

That election was seen as a litmus test for Karamanlis at a time of political and economic uncertainty with the economy shrinking and the country staring at a recession after nearly 15 years of high-profile growth.

Nearly 10 million Greeks are registered to vote.

Pakistan has forces,equipment for Taliban assault-US
WASHINGTON,- Pakistan has mobilized enough forces and equipment to launch a long awaited ground offensive against Taliban militants in their South Waziristan stronghold near the Afghan border, U.S. defense officials said on Sunday.

Washington sees a concerted push by Pakistan to eliminate Taliban and al Qaeda "sanctuaries" in its territory as the key to turning around a faltering U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has cited shortages of helicopters, armored vehicles and precision weapons in putting off a Waziristan assault, but U.S. officials said they believed the army was sufficiently equipped to act.

"We would assess that they have plenty of force to do the job right now," said one of the officials, who has been closely monitoring Pakistani preparations for the offensive.

The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussing Pakistani military planning.

Pakistan has amassed troops around Waziristan, imposing a blockade to try to choke off Taliban supplies. Before an anticipated ground assault, the army has increased artillery fire and the CIA has stepped up attacks using drone aircraft armed with missiles.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said two divisions, of up to 28,000 soldiers, were in place, enough to take on an estimated 10,000 Taliban.

While declining to discuss force levels, a U.S. defense official described the Waziristan deployment as "significant" and said he did not expect any additional reinforcements.

"You might see some troops moving but they would probably be rotating. I think they're going to maintain about the same strength that they have there now," the official said.

Washington believes the Pakistanis will have to "clear and hold" the rugged, mountainous territory to crush militants loyal to the late Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Baitullah was killed in a U.S. missile strike in August. U.S. intelligence agencies believe his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, may have been killed soon thereafter in a firefight with rivals, leaving the Taliban in disarray.

Allied with al Qaeda, Mehsud's group has mostly been fighting against Pakistani forces but also sends militants to join the battle against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.


Appearing on CNN, White House National Security Adviser James Jones pointed to al Qaeda "sanctuaries" in Pakistan as "the problem, the next step" in the fight against the group.

Washington hopes expanding U.S.-Pakistani military ties "will lead to a campaign against all insurgents on that side of the border," Jones told CBS's "Face the Nation." He said such a "strategic shift ... will spill over into Afghanistan."

Analysts say Islamabad has so far only been acting against militants that directly threaten its power, like Mehsud's Taliban, while leaving alone some of the groups leading the fight against NATO in neighboring Afghanistan.

U.S. officials see the Pakistani army's offensive against the former Taliban bastion in Swat, 80 miles (128 km) northwest of Islamabad, as a sign that the country's political and military leaders have learned from past missteps.

"I think they're determined to not make the mistake of withdrawing (from Swat) before the government forces are able to come in and backfill, and do the hold and build functions of counter-insurgency," the official said.

U.S. officials acknowledged Pakistani troops need more armored vehicles and night-vision devises to protect themselves against improvised explosive devices, the most lethal weapon used by the Taliban against American forces in Afghanistan.

"But the lack of that equipment does not mean they cannot conduct successful military operations. It might mean that it would be a little more difficult, that the logistics would be a little trickier. But it doesn't mean they can't pull the trigger if they want," said one of the defense officials.

Another U.S. military official said an assault by ground forces in Waziristan "can still be effective" despite some shortages, adding that the Pentagon was trying to free up helicopters and other equipment for Pakistan "as soon as possible".

The Pentagon has sought permission from Congress to transfer used military hardware from Iraq to the Pakistani army but American lawmakers have so far balked at the request, citing concerns that Islamabad could use the equipment against India.

Washington is also securing some equipment through third governments but the effort is moving slowly, officials said.