PM asks ministers to prepare resignations

Prime Minister George Papandreou?s cabinet meeting on Tuesday was widely expected to precede the announcement of his successor and the composition of a new interim government.

In the end, it was another briefing — albeit possibly his last — and, according to some ministers, involved more ideological discussion and soul-searching than ministers have shared in the Socialist party?s two years in government.

As negotiations with conservative opposition New Democracy had failed to yield a consensus on a new transitional government by the time the Cabinet convened at around 1 p.m., Papandreou did not ask his ministers to resign but said they should be on standby to quit when a decision is reached.

The premier reportedly played down divisions in the conservative party to joining a unity government, noting that ?the important thing is that they accept the policy,? apparently referring to one of the chief goals of the transitional administration — to implement the provisions of a new EU debt deal to Greece.

Papandreou also described the procedure that would follow the resignation of the government, noting that President Karolos Papoulis would subsequently summon the leaders of all the political parties in Parliament as well as the new prime minister.

Toward the end of the speech, taking stock of his government?s efforts to fight corruption and solve enduring problems in the state system, the premier was visibly moved, ministers said.

Papandreou also defended his proposal to put the EU?s debt deal for Greece to a referendum — a move that caused an international outcry and roiled global markets.

The referendum is a vital tool ?despite all the criticism,? the prime minister was quoted as saying.