Merkel declines to offer Greeks voting advice

BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has no tips for Greek voters ahead of a pivotal election that could determine whether the country stays in the eurozone, her spokesman said Friday.

"The chancellor does not give voting advice to neighbouring and friendly countries," Steffen Seibert told a regular briefing.

Asked about Merkel's vocal support for then French president Nicolas Sarkozy during elections in April and May, Seibert insisted she had not meddled in the democratic process.

"The chancellor never gave voting advice during the French presidential election," he said.

"She said that due to the very good working relationship with Mr Sarkozy and solidarity within the family of conservatives in Europe, she would support the re-election of Mr Sarkozy - it is very different.

"The federal government is ready to work with any government that comes out of an election in a partner country," he added.

But while Merkel remained tight-lipped, the daily Financial Times Deutschland published a front-page editorial in Greek and German calling on Greeks to "resist the demagogues".

"Dear Greeks, create clear political conditions. Vote courageously for reforms instead of angrily against the necessary, painful structural changes," it said.

"Your country will only be able to keep the euro with parties that accept the conditions of the international creditors.

"Resist the demagoguery of Alexis Tsipras and his (radical-left party) Syriza," it added, endorsing the conservative New Democracy party headed by 61-year-old economist Antonis Samaras.

At the government briefing, finance ministry spokesman Martin Kotthaus said that the question about voting recommendations put by a reporter presupposed "a strange antagonism" between Germany and Greece.

"This is not a football match we are playing, it is about a European process," he said.

"After the (Greek) election, the government that forms will be talking to all the European institutions... the troika, the Eurogroup and others. In this European process, Germany is just one voice among 17."

Asked about the payment of the next tranche of aid to stricken Greece, Kotthaus said there were still a number of hurdles to clear.

"First there are the elections in Greece, then the formation of government capable of taking action - that is what we are all hoping - after that the evaluation of the situation by the troika, then the payment of the next tranche," he said.

The troika, comprised of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, is overseeing the rescue for Greece as it struggles with its debt mountain.

In Sunday's election, the second in six weeks, all the top candidates are calling for a renegotiation of the country's bailout deal which has provided aid in exchange for a gruelling austerity programme.

The poll will be watched around the world amid concern over the shockwaves that a Greek euro exit would send through the global economy and will play into talks by European leaders divided on how to resolve the debt crisis.

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