PASOK leader draws line under past

Distancing himself from former Prime Minister George Papandreou and attacking New Democracy rival Antonis Samaras, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos pledged on Wednesday to improve liquidity for struggling businesses after the May 6 elections.

Speaking to Mega TV, Venizelos said that as defense minister in Papandreou?s government in late 2009 and 2010, he opposed the decision to appeal to the International Monetary Fund for emergency loans. Venizelos said he felt the government should have drawn up its own measures to counter the country?s debt problem. However, he said that in stepping down as prime minister and PASOK chief, Papandreou displayed ?unprecedented? responsibility.

Venizelos also accused Samaras, who he is trailing in the polls, of being fixated on becoming premier. ?I do not feel that history owes it to me to make me prime minister,? he said.

The PASOK leader, however, focused on measures to assist cash-strapped Greek businesses. He said that he would like a relaxing of the rules that lead to people?s credit rating being damaged due to debts and proposed that banks reduce the interest rate for loans to businesses and maintain adequate borrowing limits for companies that are creditworthy.

Venizelos also pledged measures to speed up the payment of money owed to businesses by the state, as well as value-added tax returns. It is estimated that this currently amounts to more than 7 billion euros.

The PASOK leader is due to deliver his first campaign address in the Nea Smyrni neighborhood of Athens on Thursday. It was due to coincide with New Democracy leader Samaras unveiling his party?s economic program ahead of the May 6 elections. However, the conservative chief had to abandon these plans due to a strike by TV technical staff. Samaras will instead present his economic policies -- known as Zappeio 3 as it will be the third such program to be announced at Zappeio Hall in Athens -- on Sunday.

New Democracy faces a challenge from the nationalist Independent Greeks formed by conservative outcast Panos Kammenos, which announced its candidate list on Wednesday. The list contained the names of a number of former army officers and members of the police force. ?Our aim is to return Greece to the Greeks, to detach our economy from the usury of the domestic and foreign banking system and to improve competitiveness,? the party said in a statement.