Greens Pull Out Of Crumbling Irish Government

(CNN)

The Green Party has pulled out of Ireland's crumbling government, depriving it of a majority in parliament and likely forcing early elections.

The decision on Sunday comes a day after Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced he would not lead his Fianna Fail party after elections, sparking a race to succeed him.

On Thursday, Cowen called for new elections March 11, but the defection of the Greens from the governing coalition will probably push a vote up even sooner. Opposition parties say the election should take place next month.

Cowen's government has been under pressure since applying for an international financial bailout last year, after insisting it did not need one.

As he called for new elections, Cowen said he "deeply" regrets "that people are suffering and experiencing immense hardship because of this recession."

But, he said: "Our budgetary strategy has helped to stabilize our economy, and return it to economic growth."

He is trying to push through measures to cut Ireland's deficit, which runs into the billions of dollars after the government bailed out its banks during the financial crisis.

The austerity measures and appeal for international financial aid have made Cowen and his government the focus of voter anger.

The Greens said Sunday that they would support the austerity package when it comes up for a vote in parliament, despite pulling out of the government.

Opposition parties hope the package will be pushed through the Dail, Ireland's parliament, this week, though Cowen said Sunday he saw that possibility as extremely unlikely.