Greek conservative rebel battles German "domination"
ATHENS (Reuters) - Germany must be stopped in its quest to dominate the rest of Europe, the leader of an upstart Greek conservative party said on Monday, employing the fiery rhetoric that has appealed to many voters opposed to Athens' EU-imposed austerity drive.
In just two months of existence, Panos Kammenos' rebel Independent Greeks have destroyed the main conservative New Democracy's hopes of winning enough seats at elections on May 6 to govern Greece on its own.
"Germany is not treating Greece as a partner but as its master," Kammenos - who quit New Democracy in February to form Independent Greeks - said in an interview with Reuters.
"It tries to turn a Europe of independent states into a Europe dominated by Germany."
Kammenos' line appears to resonate with Greeks fed up with austerity and unemployment, the price Athens pays for a 130 billion euro (105.76 billion pounds) European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout, bankrolled in large part by Berlin.
Kammenos, 46, is scoring as much as 11 percent in some polls, one of four small parties seen garnering about that much in an election that will decide whether Greece sticks to the terms of its bailout and remains in the euro zone.
About 10 other New Democracy backbenchers joined Kammenos in February, when parliament approved the bailout deal and sparked the worst street riots in Athens in years. The Independent Greeks rule out cooperating with any pro-bailout government.
Recession has left its traces right outside Kammenos' Athens party headquarters, a non-descript office building buzzing with volunteers and supporters. Streets nearby are full of shops abandoned by their owners, shutters rolled down and frayed "to-let" notices plastered across their windows.
The party offices are adorned with Greek flags and anti-bailout slogans. Above the reception desk hangs a map of Greece with red letters splashed across it, reading: "Not for sale".
The Independent Greeks, which polls indicate could hope for third place in the election, are riding a wave of discontent over severe wage cuts and record unemployment - as are several other new parties.
But Kammenos says an adept use of social media has given him an edge over the competitors. He tweets and blogs with citizens four hours a day and regularly checked the tablet on his desk during the interview.
"The Independent Greeks began on Facebook," he said. "Without social media it would have taken me years. Maybe it would have never happened."
He has Greek pop-star status with 67,000 "likes" on his Facebook site, compared with barely 12,000 for New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras and a mere 5,000 for Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Socialist PASOK party who negotiated the bailout.
Kammenos dismissed the notion that Greece would have to abandon the euro if it dumps the bailout deal. "Nobody can force Greece to quit the euro zone," he said.
His party says in its programme it will repudiate part of the country's debt because it was the product of a conspiracy by speculators who pushed Greece to the verge of bankruptcy.
Kammenos said it was illegal for commercial banks to borrow from the European Central Bank at low cost and lend to indebted governments at much higher rates. He also vowed to investigate whether Greek officials colluded with speculators to push up the cost of Greek default insurance.
"If international speculators were involved ... the bailout deals will have to be cancelled," he said.
If Greece kicks out the so-called troika of the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank, it will easily cover any funding gap by getting advance payments for the oil and gas resources that may be found on Greek territory, Kammenos said.
"On hydrocarbons, we're looking forward to cooperation with the United States, Israel and Russia," he said. Greece suspects it may have sizable oil and gas deposits under its waters but has not completed any test drillings yet.
The Independent Greeks also expect to raise 250 billion euros by selling financial instruments known as Collateral Debt Obligations, backed by German World War Two reparations it hopes to be awarded once it sues Germany in international courts. Kammenos said Israeli banks would be interested.
Asked if he would join any coalition government after the election, which no party is expected to win outright, he said: "There is no way we will cooperate with the parties that lead the country to this illegal occupation by the troika."
(Additional reporting by Daphne Papadopoulou; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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