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Greece braces for 'turning point' election

Japan early on Sunday strongly criticised a recording purporting to announce the execution of a Japanese citizen held by Islamic State militants and demanded the immediate release of another captive depicted as appearing on the image.

Athens: Greece stood Saturday on the brink of a make-or-break general election that could sweep the anti-austerity Syriza party to power and set the country on a collision course with its international creditors.

Syriza wants to renegotiate Greece`s massive 318 billion euro ($356 billion) debt and put an end to years of wage cuts and public spending reductions linked to an international bailout.

The possibility of Alexis Tsipras` left-wing party winning Sunday`s vote has sparked fears that Greece could fail to keep up its debt repayments and leave the euro.

Syriza have a lead of at least four points over the incumbent conservative New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, according to opinion polls.

In his final appeal to voters on Friday, Tsipras pledged to restore "dignity" to Greece.

Samaras told his party`s supporters in his closing rally that it would be crazy to elect Syriza just when the fiscal reforms he has supported could be about to pay off.

"Syriza will turn all of Europe against Greece.... They don`t understand Europe, they don`t believe in Europe," he said.

Greece has endured deep budget cuts tied to its 240 billion euro bailout from the so-called troika -- the European Union, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB).

Unemployment is around 25 percent and the economy has shrunk by a quarter since the start of the eurozone crisis.Tsipras has said he wants to work out a solution on the debt with the ECB by July, and has promised to cut the amount by half.

Nevertheless, Evdokia Kasoli, a pensioner in central Athens, expressed doubts on Saturday about whether Syriza would be able to keep their pledges.

"Tsipras is presentable, personable and a sweet-talker. But what can he achieve in the situation we`re now in?," she said.

Other voters though were pinning their hopes on a new approach, even if does represent a leap into the unknown.

"We don`t know if Tsipras will manage to cut the debt but we hope he will be able to make it more manageable," said Paris Lizos, a 59-year-old unemployed father of two, at Syriza`s final rally on Thursday.

Campaigning is banned on the eve of a Greek election, so Tsipras met journalists covering his campaign.

A Syriza official told AFP the party was heading for victory and was confident of forming a coalition government if necessary.

"Polls show we are five to 10 points ahead of New Democracy. What remains to be seen is whether we will have a clear majority," the official said.

Samaras was greeted by a media scrum as he visited New Democracy party workers in rainy central Athens.

He said up to 14 percent of voters remained undecided and predicted they would choose the "stability" he represented.

Greek newspapers said the country was at a potentially crucial point in its modern history.

"Fasten your seatbelts" said the Proto Thema weekly.

It warned that Greece would have "one foot outside the eurozone" if it failed to stick to the ECB`s debt repayment schedule.

The pro-government Kathimerini newspaper said whichever party won, Greece faced "suffocating deadlines" imposed by its international creditors.

In Germany, widely seen by Greeks as the driving force behind the stringent cuts linked to the bailout, the weekly centre-left Die Zeit newspaper said if Tsipras won, he could no longer be "demonised".

"Tsipras... could be the man to give Europe`s austerity policy the legitimacy it has so far lacked with the Greek people. (ECB chief Mario) Draghi senses this, and as yet nobody has come up with better proposals," the paper said in an editorial.

A victory for Syriza could pave the way for other anti-austerity parties to break through in Europe. The leader of Spain`s radical Podemos movement, Pablo Iglesias, appeared with Tsipras at an Athens rally this week.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday appealed to Greece to stay in the eurozone.

"At the heart of our principles lies solidarity. I want Greece, despite the difficulties, to remain part of our story," she said.