Venizelos challenges dissenters

As foreign auditors indicated on Tuesday that Greece was on track to receive the next tranche of crucial emergency funding, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos sought to call the bluff of wavering ruling party MPs ahead of a critical parliamentary vote on reforms.

Responding to a barrage of criticism from PASOK lawmakers, including some senior cadres and former ministers, Venizelos upped the ante. ?If you believe that this government is dishonest, unethical and ineffective, then bring it down,? the minister said.

In an interview late on Monday, Venizelos had told private television channel Mega that new measures heralded by the government must be voted through Parliament before October 23 when European Union leaders are due to hold their next summit.

The new measures include an across-the-board pay structure for civil servants, a scheme pushing thousands of public workers into early retirement or redundancy, and a new tax system overhaul.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, former minister and Socialist party stalwart Vasso Papandreou condemned Venizelos for approving fresh cuts to wages and pensions instead of closing 77 state agencies that she claimed have been set up in the past two years. Arguing that some executives at state enterprises have annual salaries of 300,000 euros, Papandreou asked why the bank accounts of minister who have served over the past 30 years have not been opened and why major tax evaders have not been arrested.

Another former minister, Louka Katseli, reportedly angered Venizelos by calling on the government to take measures to boost growth instead of raising taxes.

Christos Protopappas, another senior PASOK cadre, expressed outrage at pressure from Greece?s foreign auditors for the abolition of the collective labor contract. ?That will not pass through this parliamentary group,? he said.

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