NEWS

Ministers’ rift over hunger strikers played down

The government has played down an apparent rift between some of its ministers over the handling of the hunger striking immigrants after Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis accused his colleague at the Defense department, Evangelos Venizelos, of making uninformed comments on the matter.

Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis issued a statement early on Friday saying that the two men had spoken and settled the issue but it is unlikely the matter will end there.

On Thursday, Venizelos had publicly expressed concerns that the government?s tactics might lead to one of the 237 migrants in Athens or 50 in Thessaloniki dying.

The immigrants, mostly from North African countries, have been on hunger strike for over a month, demanding the government renews their residence permits, which have elapsed because of a lack of social security credits.

PASOK has so far refused to concede any ground and has attacked leftists for encouraging the migrants? protest. However, Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis indicated on Thursday that some kind of compromise could be found by temporarily extending the migrants? right to stay in Greece so their cases could be examined properly.

Ragousis, however, reacted angrily to the comments by Venizelos, suggesting that he had no right to speak out on the issue.

?It is not acceptable at a time when the handling of a very serious crisis is taking place, which has human lives as its focus, for a member of the government to make a public intervention without first asking to be informed about the complete facts,? said Ragousis.

Speaking to Skai TV on Friday, Alternate Culture Minister Tilemachos Hytiris said that the dispute was ?much ado about nothing.? However, he suggested that if Venizelos disagrees with the way the government is handling the matter, he should express his concerns behind closed doors, not publicly.

About 100 of the protesting immigrants are now in the hospital suffering form exhaustion and various ailments.