The leaders of three political parties have arrived for a critical meeting with the Greek president, who is trying to broker a deal for a coalition government and break the deadlock of elections that have left the country in political limbo.
The heads of the conservative New Democracy, socialist PASOK and small Democratic Left parties were meeting on Monday night with President Karolos Papoulias in the eighth day of negotiations. The May 6 elections left no party with enough parliamentary seats to form a government.
After a round of fruitless negotiations on Sunday, Papoulias invited politicians from the biggest three parties to return to the presidential mansion on Monday, along with a small leftist group.
But the Radical Left Coalition (Syriza) bloc, which finished second in May 6 elections with 16.8 per cent, announced late on Sunday that it would refuse to join a coalition government.
"Syriza refuses to be a left-wing alibi for a government that will continue the policies the people rejected on May 6," NET state television quoted Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras as saying.
Tsipras earlier said he would not join or support a pro-bailout coalition government, saying he could not agree to what he termed a mistake.
Tsipras made the comments on Sunday after attending the meeting convened by Papoulias with the heads of the other parties that won the top three spots in the election - the conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK parties.
Greece's political landscape has been in disarray for a week since an inconclusive election left parliament divided between supporters and opponents of the 130 billion euro EU/IMF bailout, with neither side able to form a government.
Papoulias is making a final effort to negotiate an agreement and break the deadlock. He must call a new election if he cannot persuade the different sides to compromise.
Time running out
The anti-bailout vote was divided among small parties but has now rallied behind Tsipras, who emerged as an overnight sensation. Polls show he would now place first if the vote is repeated, a prize that comes with a bonus of 50 extra seats in the 300-seat parliament.
"Despite the impasse at the meeting we had with the president, I hold on to some limited optimism that a government can be formed"
- Evangelos Venizelos, Socialist leader
Tsipras says he wants to keep Greece in the euro but the bailout must be torn up. European leaders say that would require them to cut off funding, allow Greece to go bankrupt and eject it from the European single currency.
After meeting with Papoulias and the conservative and socialist leaders, Tsipras said of their coalition offer: "They are not asking for agreement, they are asking us to be their partners in crime and we will not be their accomplices".
Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos said he was nonetheless holding on to hopes that a deal could still be salvaged, but warned time was running out.
"Despite the impasse at the meeting we had with the president, I hold on to some limited optimism that a government can be formed," said Venizelos.
"The moment of truth has come. We either form a government or we go to elections."
Syriza, which made massive gains to come second in last Sunday's election, campaigned on an anti-bailout platform and insists any new government must cancel the austerity measures Greece has had to commit to in exchange for international bailouts.
Tsipras argues that the bailout terms are so onerous that they are giving the country's battered economy no chance of recovery.
But both PASOK's Venizelos and New Democracy's Antonis Samaras, whose parties negotiated the deals, have criticised Tsipras' position as irresponsible.
They say his policies would lead to disaster and force Greece out of the EU's joint currency, something that none of the political leaders say they want.
The political impasse must be overcome by Thursday, when parliament convenes, or new elections will have to be called in June.
A new poll published hours before the meetings on Sunday showed Greeks were desperate for a coalition government that will keep the country in the euro.
An overriding 72 per cent said parties should co-operate "at all costs" in the Kappa Research poll published in To Vima weekly.
In response to a separate question, 78.1 per cent said the new government should do "whatever it takes" to keep Greece in the euro.
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