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SOCIALIST PARTY WINS BIG IN RECESSION-BATTERED GREECE

ATHENS - Greece's Socialists trounced the governing conservatives in a landslide election Sunday, with voters angered by scandals and a faltering economy ousting Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis halfway through his second term.

Humbled by his New Democracy party's worst electoral performance ever, Karamanlis, 53, resigned as its leader and said a new chief is needed for the party founded by his late uncle, Constantine Karamanlis, 35 years ago.

George Papandreou, 57, now follows in the footsteps of his father, Andreas Papandreou - who founded his Panhellenic Socialist Movement party, or PASOK - and grandfather and namesake George Papandreou, both of whom served several terms as prime ministers.

"I know the potential of the country very well, a potential being drowned by corruption, favoritism, lawlessness and waste," Papandreou said.

Results from 87.65 percent of votes counted showed PASOK winning with 43.93 percent, compared to 34.03 percent for New Democracy. Turnout was at 70.44 percent. Voting is compulsory in Greece, although penalties for failing to vote are no longer enforced.

The result gives PASOK a solid majority of 160 seats in the 300-member parliament.Papandreou's victory, along with a recent election win by socialists in Portugal, bucks a European trend that has seen a conservative surge in the continent's powerhouse economies, including most recently in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel won re-election last week.

Papandreou will now have to deal with a faltering economy that is expected to contract in 2009 after years of strong growth, while the budget deficit will probably exceed 6 percent of economic output.

In contrast to Karamanlis, who advocated an austerity program of freezing state salaries, pensions and hiring, Papandreou has promised to inject up to $4.4 billion to jump-start the economy.

In 2004, Karamanlis became the youngest prime minister in modern Greek history after more than a decade of socialist rule.

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