Papandreou vows to stay the course

Prime Minister George Papandreou said on Thursday that he would continue to lead his troubled government in a bid to extract Greece from its debt crisis, dousing speculation that a dispute in PASOK would force him to quit.

?The country is at a critical juncture and we must be decisive in tackling the difficult challenges that lie ahead,? Papandreou told Parliament. ?You can rely on me and I will support the national effort to extract Greece from the crisis,? he said.

The premier confirmed he would reshuffle his Cabinet before seeking a vote of confidence.

Sources said late Thursday that the reshuffle would be announced at 9 a.m. on Friday.

Papandreou?s speech came just hours after two resignations by Socialist MPs threw the ruling party into turmoil and fueled speculation that more would quit.

The developments also came just a day after Papandreou failed in a fourth attempt to secure political consensus to push through a second set of austerity measures required to secure more loans from the EU and the IMF.

The leader of the main conservative opposition, Antonis Samaras, on Thursday stuck to his guns, insisting on the need for a renegotiation of the terms of Greece?s agreement with its creditors – a prospect that the latter have already ruled out.

Samaras claimed that the government?s austerity drive was failing and used a statement attributed to Albert Einstein to illustrate the perceived pointlessness of the measures. ?Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,? he remarked.

?PASOK can?t govern anymore,? he added, claiming that the credibility of Papandreou and his party had been eroded.

On the issue of a seemingly impossible consensus with the Socialists, Samaras noted that one prerequisite for the conservatives would be for the government to repeal a citizenship law, voted through Parliament last year, that gives greater rights to immigrants? children born in Greece.

Despite the clear lack of common ground between the two parties, Papandreou said he would press on with efforts to garner consensus. ?Now is not the time to give up,? he said. ?Now is the time to continue, now is the time to say yes to important change.?

Papandreou said the cabinet reshuffle would revitalize his administration, which he admitted was guilty of ?mistakes and shortfalls.? ?The next government will be more effective and more cohesive,? he said.

The premier said he sympathized with beleagured Greeks. ?I understand the pain and even the anger of the people,? he said. The new austerity measures being proposed were ?tough and in some cases even unfair? but unavoidable, he said. ?The sooner we implement them, the sooner we will emerge from the crisis,? he said.

Papandreou criticized international rating agencies for a series of downgrades of Greece?s creditworthiness and said that European officials had also made mistakes in recent months in tackling a broadening and deepening debt crisis.

Looking forward, he proposed the idea of holding a referendum to reform the Greek Constitution – a move that would allow authorities to cut jobs in the public sector which are currently protected.

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