NEWS

PM urges hope in difficult times

Prime Minister George Papandreou sought to send out a message of hope in his Easter address over the weekend, expressing his conviction that Greece would overcome its problems and emerge from the grips of an unprecedented debt crisis, even as speculation about more political and economic upheaval peaked.

?Despite the difficulties it faces, Greece is changing and is being reborn,? Papandreou said in a televised address on Saturday from the Saronic island of Hydra where he spent the Easter weekend. ?We are walking together on this path, breaking with pessimism and fatalism and taking change into our hands, certain that we will succeed,? he added.

The premier?s words of encouragement, delivered against the backdrop of an idyllic island harbor, were reminiscent of his address almost exactly a year ago from the island of Kastelorizo, when Papandreou appealed to eurozone partners to activate the bloc?s rescue fund and save Greece from bankruptcy. That speech marked the beginning of an austerity drive which is now in full swing.

This week is expected to see the government providing details about a new raft of reforms including deeply unpopular cutbacks in the state sector and an ambitious privatization program aimed at raising billions of euros in much-needed revenue. The fine-tuning of the cutbacks will be influenced by the expected announcement on Tuesday by Eurostat, the European Commission?s statistics service, of the revised figure for Greece?s budget deficit for 2010. It is expected that the figure will be revised up to 10.5 percent of gross domestic product from 9.5 percent.

The reforms face strong resistance within the ruling Socialist party, even by some ministers.

The growing upheaval within the ranks of the party and support for a restructuring of Greece?s debt by some cadres are piling pressure on Papandreou, with many commentators believing that he will be forced to carry out a cabinet reshuffle soon or even call early elections.

In the event of a reshuffle, it is believed that Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos might replace Theodoros Pangalos as deputy prime minister or Giorgos Papaconstantinou as finance minister.

Environment Minister Tina Birbili, Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos and Labor Minister Louka Katseli also are believed to be at risk of losing their posts.