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Athens - Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou pledged his support for his yet-to-be named successor Wednesday as he formally stepped down as leader of the debt-wracked country.

"I want to wish every success to the new PM and the new government. I will support this effort with all my strength," Papandreou said in a solemn televised address to the nation, without naming the next leader.

But the outgoing PM said his successor would be an "institutional" choice as reports suggested 60-year-old parliament chief Philippos Petsalnikos, a long-term socialist member and former minister, would be given the nod.

"This is a historic day, the fact that several political powers are able to co-operate," Papandreou later told head of state President Carolos Papoulias ahead of a meeting with other parties to finalize the new administration.

"It opens a new page in our country's history," he said.

Papoulias has asked to see Papandreou, the head of the opposition and leader of the conservative New Democracy party Antonis Samaras, and the leader of the small nationalist party Laos, George Karatzaferis.

The other two parties in Greece's parliament - the KKE Communists and the Syriza leftists - have refused to participate in the talks, arguing that the new government will change nothing in tough austerity policies followed for the past two years under close supervision from Brussels and the IMF.

The incoming team must quickly ratify an EU bailout deal which Greece's European peers say is a precondition for the release of loan funds to prevent bankruptcy in the Greek economy whose reserves will run out in mid-December.

Greek officials defended the time it was taking for the new unity government to be established. Greece's big two political parties, the Socialist PASOK party and the conservative New Democracy, are renowned for their opposition to each other and have rarely worked together since the rejection of the monarchy in 1974.

Papandreou's office said the premier spoke by telephone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday morning and discussed "the developments in Europe and the eurozone," as well as the power-sharing negotiations in Athens.

Sarkozy's office said Papandreou informed the French president "of the imminent (formation) of a new government in Greece supported by the majority and the opposition."

Former European Central Bank vice president Lucas Papademos had been tipped to become the interim prime minister, but it was unclear whether he remained the favored candidate by Wednesday.

By early afternoon, the conservative opposition was issuing angry statements demanding a swift conclusion to the talks, and blaming the embarassing delay on the current government.

"The solution is in the hands of Mr. Papandreou," said a statement from the New Democracy party. "No further delay is conceivable. We must finally finish this."

Earlier, deputy government spokesman Angelos Tolkas had said the new government would be announced later in the day, but gave no indication who the new prime minister would be. Similar comments had been made on Tuesday, too.

"This process is new to the country," Tolkas told television channel Skai in the morning. "So I think three days was a reasonable time for the consultations to be made and for each side to make the necessary concession."

On Tuesday, Papandreou's ministers offered their resignations as part of the process of creating the new government, which is only expected to last until February when early elections are to be held.

The new government will be tasked to secure the country's new 130-billion-euro (US$179 billion) European rescue package and then get it through parliament. That approval will allow the release of an 8-billion-euro (US$11 billion) loan installment from its existing bailout. Without the funds, Greece will go bankrupt before Christmas, potentially wrecking Europe's banking system and sending the global economy back into recession.