Papandreou holds his own in party speech

PASOK president George Papandreou did little to heal his party?s wounds that observers suggest could lead to a split, as his speech at the PASOK National Council on Saturday afternoon included the proposal for the election of a new president for the party a few weeks before the next general election, which Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos had rejected 24 hours earlier.

Venizelos later implied he would abstain from the procedures for the election of a new PASOK president.

Papandreou insisted that the new party leader must be chosen in March from the grassroot party members, and certainly after the completion of negotiations on the country?s debt swap and the signing of the new loan contract. He went on to forecast that the elections will take place in late April.

?I will not consent to any proposal that is not in harmony with the country?s needs and the democratic achievements such as the election from the grassroot members and the citizens,? he said.

An apologetic Papandreou admitted that the only thing his government achieved was to avoid a disorderly default and once again put a fair share of the blame for the current fiscal problems on the New Democracy government, from 2004 to 2009.

?Committing errors is natural when you decide to act,? said the former Prime Minister. ?The memorandum [with our creditors] did not solve the problems, but we did not default. However, our country has not yet avoided the risk.?

Addressing his critics inside the party who call for his immediate departure, Papandreou showed a combative face stating: ?You must take all timetables and ambitions out of your mind. You should listen to a man who has lived it all within two years,? said the PASOK leader.

He even struck an unusually populist note in attacking Germany and Chancellor Angela Markel saying ?they have a costume for Europe that is tailor-made in order to avoid a new Greece. They did not believe that we wanted to put our house in order after what they had seen until 2009. Conservative Europe has failed.?

He went on to attack the media that apply pressure on politicians and, as in all occasions when he wishes to make the traditionalist wing of the party close ranks, he made an emotional reference to his father, the three-time Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou: ?As for the cowardly attacks on my family, I will answer using a phrase of Andreas: You want to hit me? I?m here!?

?I do not know whether I will win the battle but I will fight; and that is from any post, be it within or outside of Greece,? pledged Papandreou.

In his speech Venizelos reminded Papandreou that the former Premier has announced he will step down from party leader, by congratulating him for his decision. Papandreou said nothing in his speech on Saturday about stepping down.

Venizelos promised to do his duty as the Finance Minister of the Lucas Papademos government and warned that the next three months will be the most difficult for Greece since World War II, signaling he would not take part in the party election procedure.

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