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Greece's Left-Wing Prime Minister Takes Charge

Newly sworn-in Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras enters his new offices in Athens on Monday.
Orestis Panagiotou
Newly sworn-in Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras enters his new offices in Athens on Monday.

Alexis Tsipras, who led his left-wing Syriza party to a momentous win in Greece's parliamentary election, was sworn in today amid fears about what his win means for the country's bailout agreements with the European Union.

Reporter Joanna Kakissis in Athens, who is following the story, tells our Newscast unit that Tsipras now leads the first anti-austerity government in Europe. She adds:

"As scores of news photographers clicked away, Alexis Tsipras took his oath of office today in Athens. He said he promised to uphold the Constitution and look out for the welfare of Greeks. Tsipras is an atheist, so he refused a religious oath — the custom in this Greek Orthodox country. He's the first prime minister to do so. He's only 40, so he's also the youngest leader in Greece since 1865.

"His first act as premier was to lay flowers at a monument to resistance fighters who battled the Nazis in World War II. Tsipras has said he wants to seek repayment of a wartime loan that Greece was forced to give the Nazis."

Syriza won 149 seats in the 300-seat Parliament, just two seats short of an absolute majority. It will govern with a small right-wing party called Independent Greeks, which won 13 seats. Joanna says the Independent Greeks is a nationalist party that also opposed the bailout, and is known for its conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism.

The new government says it wants to renegotiate the terms of Greece's two EU bailouts. Those bailoutsresulted in billions being loaned to Greece, which was on the brink of a default, in exchange for severe — and deeply unpopular — austerity measures.

But reporter Teri Schultz in Brussels tells Newscast that the EU has warned Greece not to expect any leniency.

"Greek voters were warned from many corners of the EU that putting the Syriza party in power would not be welcome, as leader Alexis Tsipras says he'll renegotiate terms of the bailouts that kept Athens from bankruptcy — twice," Teri says. "EU leaders say a Syriza government will be responsible for paying Greece's debts, but everyone is nervous what will happen if the required reforms really are called off in Athens."

Syriza's win means that for the first time since the fall of Greece's military junta in 1974, neither the outgoing conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' New Democracy Party nor the center-left PASOK will be in charge of Greece.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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