By Angeliki Koutantou and George Georgiopoulos
ATHENS (Reuters) – Conservative politician Kyriakos Mitsotakis was sworn in as Greece’s new prime minister on Monday after storming to victory on a pledge to create jobs and lure investment to the crisis-hit nation.
Mitsotakis’s New Democracy party won an outright majority with 158 seats in the 300-seat legislature. His pledges for more investments, well-paid jobs and fewer taxes appeared to have won over Greeks worn out by years of EU-prescribed austerity and the euro zone’s highest unemployment.
“Today we get started on the hard work. I have absolute confidence in our abilities to rise to the occasion,” Mitsotakis said after he was sworn in at a ceremony officiated by Greek Orthodox clergy at the presidential palace in Athens.
He was later welcomed by outgoing premier Alexis Tsipras, a leftist who steered the country out of bailouts, but was blamed for botching negotiations with the country’s lenders and saddling the nation with more debt after he took over in 2015.
“Strong mandate for big changes,” conservative Kathimerini newspaper said on its front page.
But his first major test is likely to come from outside Greece to the east.
Tensions are simmering between Turkey and Cyprus over offshore energy reserves; Greece is the closest ally of the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government, while there are also differences with Turkey over airspace rights over the Aegean.
Cyprus has discovered offshore in recent years, but its jurisdiction has been challenged by Turkey, which supports a breakaway state in the north of the island.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was the first foreign leader to call to congratulate Mitsotakis on Sunday evening, aides to the Greek leader said. On Monday Turkey’s foreign ministry said it hoped bilateral relations could be further enhanced under Mitsotakis’s stewardship.
“To this end, we want to swiftly revitalize existing dialogue channels and start our contacts as soon as possible to address issues on our agenda,” foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said.
Earlier on Monday, a Turkish drillship took position off the eastern coast of Cyprus with the stated aim of exploring for oil and gas. Turkey has had another drill ship, the Fatih, west of the island since May.
Last month, European Union leaders warned Turkey to end its gas drilling in waters around the island or face action from the bloc. Cypriot foreign ministry officials last week said they would take legal action against any company encroaching on its maritime areas without license.
Some Greeks said the new government could make the economy work better after the country emerged from the close surveillance of its international lenders last year.
Conservative leaning Ta Nea newspaper said Mitsotakis had “absolute domination,” making him an “all-powerful prime minister” for the next four years.
But many Greeks are wary after years of recession and crisis. Mitsotakis is inheriting an economy growing at a moderate clip – at 1.3 percent annual pace in the first quarter – and public finances which may fall short of targets agreed with lenders.
“I don’t think the political situation would change much because of a new prime minister,” said Evi Koukounaraki, 28.
(Additional reporting and writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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