PASOK still divided over leadership

Cadres of crisis-wracked PASOK are to meet Saturday for a critical convention of the party?s national council after current leader and former Prime Minister George Papandreou announced Friday that he would step down as party leader before general elections — which are not expected to take place in April — but only once tough negotiations on a Greece debt swap (PSI) have been concluded.

According to sources, Papandreou?s proposal has already been rejected by Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who is playing a key role in negotiations on a crucial debt write-down that had been slated for conclusion next week but stalled Friday.

Supporters of Venizelos, who is seen as a key contender in a leadership contest, are expected to exert pressure on Papandreou Saturday for a swifter withdrawal.

Venizelos?s group — one of three factions in the dissent-ridden party — comprises many stalwart PASOK cadres that supported Venizelos in his unsuccessful leadership challenge to Papandreou in 2007. The group includes Administrative Reform Minister Dimitris Reppas, Agricultural Development Minister Costas Skandalidis, Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou as well as former ministers Vasso Papandreou and Fofi Gennimata.

The second faction is supportive of Papandreou and includes several prominent ministers belonging to the so-called PASOK ?reformists,? such as Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou, Alternate Defense Minister Yiannis Ragousis and Health Minister Andreas Loverdos as well as PASOK stalwarts including Parliament Speaker Filippos Petsalnikos and former minister Haris Kastanidis.

A third, much smaller, group is led by left-leaning party veteran Giorgos Panagiotakopoulos, who clashed vehemently with Papandreou in the previous Socialist government over that administration?s austerity drive.

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