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Saturday April 5, 2014 MYT 1:25:02 AM
Saturday April 5, 2014 MYT 1:26:15 AM
by costas pitas AND renee maltezou
ATHENS (Reuters) - A scandal in Greece over the prosecution of far-right politicians has helped the leftist opposition halt a rise in support for the government, a poll showed on Friday, despite a week of positive economic data.
Takis Baltakos, a top aide to the Greek prime minister, resigned on Wednesday after a leaked video showed him suggesting the government had tried to press judges to jail lawmakers from the far-right Golden Dawn party.
The video has embarrassed Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who has just struck a deal with the country's EU/IMF lenders, boosting hopes that Greece could be ready to issue bonds for the first time in four years.
Samaras's ruling coalition has a majority of just two seats in parliament after it passed a reform bill to obtain the latest tranche of bailout funds but expelled one lawmaker who opposed the legislation.
In a poll by Metron Analysis, 26.5 percent of voters said they would vote for the anti-bailout Syriza party in May's European elections while 25.1 percent said they would support Samaras's New Democracy.
To Potami, a movement launched in February by a popular TV journalist, was in third place with 14.2 percent, while Golden Dawn scored 7.9 percent.
New Democracy, which leads the coalition with the Socialist PASOK party, was last week just 0.4 percentage points behind Syriza, having closed the gap from a 2 percentage point deficit at the end of February. The centre-left group Elia, which includes PASOK, polled 5.8 percent.
However, respondents answering in the four days from Monday, including after the video emerged, had swung in favour of Syriza, helping it revive its lead over New Democracy.
"New Democracy was not able to capitalise on whatever success it had with the economy and the agreements it reached. It paid the price for the Baltakos affair," pollster Stratos Fanaras told TOC Television, which commissioned the survey.
Greece goes to the polls in May for both local and European parliamentary elections, traditionally used by austerity-weary voters to punish incumbent politicians.
The Baltakos affair has raised concerns that politicians may also have interfered in the arrest of members of Golden Dawn, whose leader and five other lawmakers have been detained pending trial over charges of being part of a criminal group.
Baltakos has said he was just telling Golden Dawn "a few things they wanted to hear, to maintain contact" and that Samaras was not aware of his contact with the party.
The government has denied any wrongdoing.
In a televised statement on Friday, Samaras said he would not allow any "criminal organisation" to become the "regulator of our political life."
"I am the first person who fought Golden Dawn, more fiercely than anyone else," he said. "The government fully supports the independence of justice with the same unshakeable faith."
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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