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Greece on shaky ground in 11th-hour effort to avoid another election

Greece's president will meet with political party leaders today in a last-ditch effort to broker a deal for a coalition government and avoid another general election.

Karolos Papoulias took the step Saturday after socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos officially gave up the mandate to form a coalition government after three rounds of negotiations proved fruitless in the week following last Sunday's election.

Papoulias' office announced that the president would meet initially with the heads of the three parties that won the most votes in the inconclusive election -- the conservative New Democracy, radical left-wing Radical Left Coalition (Syriza) and socialist PASOK.

He will then meet individually with the leaders of the other four parties that won enough votes for parliamentary seats -- the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks, the Communists, the extreme-right Golden Dawn and the moderate left Democratic Left.

The format was designed to bring everyone to the table, as Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras had threatened to boycott the talks rather than sit at the same table with Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos.

If Papoulias fails to broker a coalition agreement, Greece will have to hold new elections next month, most likely on June 10 or 17, prolonging the political uncertainty and bringing Greece's European Union membership into question.

Venizelos was the third party leader to try to cobble together a governing coalition after the election left no party with enough parliamentary seats to form a government.

Voters furious at two years of harsh austerity measures taken in return for international bailouts worth $310 billion rejected Greece's two formerly dominant parties, Venizelos' socialist PASOK and the conservative New Democracy, in favor of smaller parties on the left and right.

The turmoil has alarmed Greece's international creditors, who have stressed that the country must stick to the terms of its rescue deals if it hopes to continue receiving the funds that have been keeping it afloat since May 2010.

Whether Greece should adhere to the austerity measures required for the bailout loans or pull out of the deal has been at the heart of the fight over creating a coalition government.

Syriza leader Tsipras, whose party made massive gains to finish second in last Sunday's election, campaigned on an anti-bailout platform and insists any new government must cancel the austerity measures. He argues the terms are so onerous that they are giving the country's battered economy no chance of recovery.

Both Venizelos and Antonis Samaras, head of New Democracy, have slammed Tsipras' position as irresponsible. They said 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.

Hopes had been raised that a solution could be found in the form of a partnership between New Democracy, PASOK and the smaller Democratic Left party of Fotis Kouvelis, whose 19 seats put it in a potential kingmaker position.

But all three parties have insisted they cannot join forces without the support of Syriza, given its strong election performance.

The latest opinion poll, published Saturday in a weekly financial newspaper, confirms the recent trend showing Syriza overtaking New Democracy. The poll estimates that Syriza will win 25.5 percent in a new election, up from 16.8 percent it got last Sunday. New Democracy follows with 21.7 percent, up from 18.9 percent, and the socialists would gain 14.6 percent, up from 13.2 percent.

Even if the results of the poll were to be confirmed, Syriza does not get enough votes to form a government on its own.