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World

Greece's Left-Wing Prime Minister Takes Charge

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The new prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, was sworn in today, promising an end to his country's humiliation and suffering. His leftist Syriza party is the first anti-austerity party to take power in Europe. The new prime minister is young and has no government experience. But after five years of economic pain, Greeks have pinned their hopes for the future on him. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The Greek economic depression turned Ilias Tsikos into a fan of the new prime minister. Today, Tsikos, a 42-year-old father of two, ekes out a living selling loukoumadhes, fritters of fried dough, out of a mobile cart. He used to work in construction, but that job disappeared when the Greek economy collapsed.

ILIAS TSIKOS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "Things cannot get any worse," Tsikos says, "and every other politician has screwed things up, so why not take a chance on this guy?"

Alexis Tsipras is different from other politicians in Greece. He's only 40 years old, the youngest prime minister since 1865. He's been with his high school sweetheart for more than two decades, and they have two children, but the couple has never married. Instead of the wealthy suburbs, the family lived in a working-class neighborhood. Tsipras has even been seen taking out the trash.

Mathaios Tsimitakis, a journalist who knew Tsipras in high school, says Greeks like that he's a political outsider.

MATHAIOS TSIMITAKIS: Alexis is not coming from a political family. You know, he didn't inherit a position in politics. And Alexis is - at this point, he seems to be one of the very few politicians in Greece to be in connection to society.

KAKISSIS: A communist in his youth, Tsipras took over the leadership of Syriza in 2008. The party picked up support as Greeks grew more and more frustrated with the country's political establishment. With a record unemployment and rising poverty, Greeks are fed up with austerity and the politicians who can offer nothing else. At his victory rally Sunday night, Tsipras got the loudest cheers when he talked about the message of his campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: (Through interpreter) This victory undisputedly cancels any agreements of austerity, of catastrophe. The Greek people have given their verdict.

KAKISSIS: Today, with hundreds of cameras clicking away, Tsipras was sworn in as prime minister. As usual, he didn't wear a tie. He refused a religious ceremony, the first prime minister to do that.

Veatriki Archmandriti, a public transportation worker, says she expects Tsipras will fight any more austerity plans cooked up in the back rooms of Brussels and Berlin.

VEATRIKI ARCHMANDRITI: (Through interpreter) Of course now those leaders have to talk to him. He's the prime minister, and he represents not only a change for Greece, he's the face of change in all of Europe. And he has forced Europe to see that austerity can't go on.

KAKISSIS: European leaders say Greece cannot walk away from the terms of its bailout. The country could face bankruptcy. Tsipras says he's open to talking to anyone, but he won't budge on his promises to the Greek people. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.