Venizelos gathering team to lead PASOK

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who is due to resign on Monday after being elected the new PASOK leader, is finalizing his campaign team for the upcoming elections, which New Democracy will prepare for with less depleted ranks after welcoming back on Friday five of its MPs who had been ousted for voting against the new bailout.

Venizelos is the only candidate standing in Sunday?s leadership elections, which will see 1,074 ballot boxes set up around the country for PASOK supporters to express their support for the outgoing finance minister. Sources close to Venizelos said if 80,000 of some 400,000 registered members voted it would be considered a strong endorsement of his candidacy.

The minister is expected to meet Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and President Karolos Papoulias on Monday to formally tender his resignation. Venizelos is also expected to name a new spokesman for PASOK next week, as well as finalizing the party officials that will lead the party?s campaign ahead of elections, which are likely to be held in early May.

Outgoing PASOK leader George Papandreou is due to meet Papademos on Saturday. In his last full day in charge of the Socialist party that his father formed, Papandreou attended a discussion about the economic crisis in Strasbourg, where he met French Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande.

In a bid to halt the momentum of the Independent Greeks, the party founded by New Democracy rebel Panos Kammenos, conservative leader Antonis Samaras on Friday approved the return of five MPs who had opposed the terms of Greece?s new loan deal. ND sources said that it is possible another five of the 22 MPs expelled from the party may return to the conservative fold over the next few days.

Also on Friday five of the 20 PASOK MPs expelled over the bailout vote held talks with the Democratic Left. It is likely the deputies will join the leftist party.