PM in apologetic mood

In an attempt to make a comeback after the heavy criticism directed at his government and his leadership over the last few weeks, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis admitted mistakes in the handling of the Vatopedi land scandal but underlined his intention to fight on. Speaking to New Democracy's parliamentary group, Karamanlis is believed to have paved the way for a reshuffle, which will carry the conservatives' hopes of reversing their declining fortunes in the opinion polls. «I am present and I will fight; I will fight with all my strength,» said Karamanlis, apparently rejecting any suggestion that he will soon give up his premiership. He made reference to the property exchange between the state and the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, which was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry that concluded this week. Karamanlis accepted that his government had not been as alert as it should have to prevent the monks from ensuring that the deal was tilted very much in their favor. «I, too, underestimated the matter,» he said. «I did not see its dimensions quickly enough. I did not have a complete picture the first time I was asked to comment on the issue publicly. This was my mistake; I don't attribute it to anyone else.» Karamanlis criticized PASOK for demanding that several ex-ministers and current Cabinet members stand trial. Nevertheless, sources indicated yesterday that two of the ND politicians targeted by PASOK, as well as other opposition parties, Agricultural Development Minister Alexandros Kontos and Deputy Foreign Minister Petros Doukas, are set to be sacked. A wider reshuffle is expected to follow soon. Karamanlis also attracted attention for his comments on the recent unrest that followed the shooting of teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos last Saturday. The prime minister again condemned the killing of the 15-year-old by a policeman, while calling for all parties to isolate rioters. He also acknowledged some of the problems that are troubling the country's young people. «Long-unresolved problems, such as the lack of meritocracy, corruption in everyday life and a sense of social injustice disappoint young people.»