ATHENS - IN A major test of support for austerity measures, voters in crisis-hit Greece will cast ballots in local elections Sunday that could force the Socialist government to call a snap general election.

The vote pits Prime Minister George Papandreou's 13-month-old Socialist government against an array of opposition parties upset with the terms of a rescue loan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

On Friday, Mr Papandreou repeated a pledge to call early elections if his government loses significant support - spooking bond markets over Greece's ability to cope with its massive debts.

'Several months ago, we saved Greece from bankruptcy, but the state of alert is not over,' Mr Papandreou told an election rally.

'I have no desire to go to national elections,' he said. 'But for this massive effort by the country to succeed we must have public unity and dedication when faced with this great challenge.' The Greek government has endured waves of strikes and disruptive protests against cost-cutting reforms demanded to start receiving the euro110 billion (S$198.4 billion) in international emergency loans.

Mr Papandreou's popularity slipped in recent months, hurt by the ongoing recession and a surge in unemployment and small business failures.

Greece votes under threat