NEWS

PM chairs crisis meeting on hunger strike

The presence of 230 hunger strikers in the grounds of Athens University?s Law School became a top priority on Monday, as Prime Minister George Papandreou convened a meeting of a crisis team to decide how the undocumented immigrants could be removed from the building.

In a clear sign that PASOK is growing increasingly concerned about the presence of the migrants, who want residence permits, Papandreou met with a small team of ministers to discuss the issue before leaving for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Sources said Papandreou instructed Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis, Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and Deputy Labor Minister Anna Dalara to find a way to remove the immigrants without creating further tension. The premier, sources said, was adamant that the government should stick to the letter of the law and avoid being accused of heavy-handedness.

This position is in keeping with an apparent fear within PASOK circles that leftist and student groups have stage-managed the migrants? protest to create a flash point with the government. Papoutsis indicated as much after the meeting. ?We are not going to be fooled into getting involved in conflicts or the spilling of blood,? he told journalists.

Greece?s asylum law means the police cannot enter a university?s grounds without permission from the rector, and only in the case of a serious crime being committed. Papandreou accused the migrants? supporters of abusing this rule.

?Asylum does not mean that everyone does what they want, nor is it meant to favor the reactionary forces in society,? he told PASOK MPs yesterday morning. ?Leftist politics does not involve the exploitation of desperate people or the promotion of impunity.?

The government put pressure on Athens University rector Theodosis Pelegrinis to do more to end the migrants? protest but he suggested that Ragousis should go to the Law School to speak directly to the immigrants. The standoff has led to a reopening of the debate about the asylum law, with New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras leading calls for it to be scrapped.