PM?s ally resigns in protest

Prime Minister George Papandreou was dealt a blow on Thursday when Deputy Regional Development Minister Haris Paboukis, who has been a close political associate of the premier?s for 15 years, quit the government and cast doubt on the policies it is following.

Paboukis sent Papandreou his resignation letter after apparently failing to convince the prime minister that he should reform the Merchant Marine Ministry as an independent government department with authority over the coast guard.

?For two months I have tried to re-establish a sector vital to the nation,? Paboukis said in his letter.

He argued that shipping, which accounts for about a fifth of the Greek economy, has a vital role to play in encouraging growth and should, therefore, be overseen by a separate ministry.

PASOK incorporated the ministry into other departments when it came to power in 2009. Paboukis said earlier this week that ?everyone? was in favor of a separate merchant marine department. However, his insistence seems to have triggered a fierce row with Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, who currently has jurisdiction over the coast guard. In his resignation letter, Paboukis made a thinly veiled attack on Papoutsis and the government.

?At a crucial time for the country, it is our duty not to be beholden to dogmatism and personal strategies that do not serve national goals,? he said. ?My participation in the country?s politics during this period was driven only by my desire to help overcome the crisis? even when I did not agree with all the decisions that were taken.?

In 2009, Paboukis was appointed minister of state, where he was given the task of attracting foreign investment. He was moved from that post in the summer reshuffle after failing to deliver any significant results.

Paboukis entered politics in 1996 as an adviser to Papandreou, then foreign minister. The two became close associates and his departure is seen as a blow to Papandreou, who is said to have been angered by his former aide?s resignation.