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ATHENS — Greece's left-wing Syriza appeared on course to trounce the ruling conservatives in Sunday's snap election and could win the absolute majority it wants to fight international creditors' insistence on painful austerity measures.
Syriza was on course to win between 149-151 seats in the 300 seat parliament, with 36.5 percent of the vote, almost nine points ahead of the conservative New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, according to interior ministry projections, based on a partial count of the vote.
While a final result may not come for hours, 40-year-old Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras was set to become prime minister of the first euro zone government openly opposed to bailout conditions imposed by European Union and International Monetary Fund during the economic crisis.
His expected victory raises the prospect of an immediate standoff with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government and could raise questions over distribution of the next tranche of more than 7 billion euros in outstanding international aid Greece needs in the next few months.
Tsipras' campaign slogan "Hope is coming!" resonated with voters, weary of austerity after six years of constant crisis that has sent unemployment over 25 percent and threatened millions with poverty.
"The vote is a 'No' to unilateral austerity, a 'No' to a Europe that they tried to turn into Merkel's punching bag," Syriza senior official Dimitris Papadimoulis said on Greece's Mega television.
With flag-waving supporters hitting the streets of Athens, some shedding tears of joy, Germany's Bundesbank warned Greece it needed to reform to tackle its economic problems and the euro fell nearly half a U.S. cent.
A Syriza spokesman said Samaras had called Tsipras to congratulate him on winning the vote.
A total of seven parties are set to enter parliament, including the far-right Golden Dawn, but the final result will depend heavily on votes still to be counted in Athens, which accounts for slightly under half of Greece's 11 million population.
Tsipras has promised to keep Greece in the euro and has toned down some of the fiery rhetoric for which he was known but his arrival in power would herald the biggest challenge to the approach so far adopted to the crisis by euro zone governments.
Financial markets have been worried a Syriza victory will trigger a new financial crisis in Greece, but the repercussions for the euro zone are expected to be far smaller than feared the last time Greeks went to the polls in 2012.
If Syriza ends up short of an absolute majority, Tsipras will have to try to form a coalition with smaller parties or reach an agreement that would allow Syriza to form a minority government with ad-hoc support from others in parliament.