Loverdos unites with Venizelos for PASOK leadership

Health Minister Andreas Loverdos has indicated that he will not run for the PASOK leadership but will team up with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Speaking on Tuesday in a joint press conference, Loverdos said he would join forces with Venizelos to avoid further division within PASOK.

?We have decided with Mr Venizelos to fight together for the country and within PASOK,? he said. ?We will proceed together.?

Loverdos and Venizelos had been among the favorites to succeed PASOK leader George Papandreou but the two men also have a history of cooperation. Loverdos was one of Venizelos?s leading supporters when he unsuccessfully challenged Papandreou for the party leadership in 2007.

Loverdos did not state clearly how he would work together with Venizelos but it seems likely that the finance minister will stand as candidate for party president with Loverdos as his No. 2.

So far, Development Minister Micahlis Chrysochoidis is the the only Cabinet member to declare an interest in leading PASOK.

The health minister said that PASOK, which is flagging in the opinion poll, had already suffered enough and would only be hurt more by divisions among candidates.

?Our initiative may play a positive role in uniting the party,? said Venizelos.

The election for a new leader is not due to take place until March but there has been speculation that PASOK MPs may try to oust Papandreou earlier.

The Socialists? parliamentary group is due to meet on Thursday and could call for a vote of no confidence in the former prime minister.

Rumblings have been growing within the party about Papandreou?s stewardship. His absence last week as a result of attending a meeting of the Socialist International in Costa Rica and a trip to Israel this week for a conference have not been received well by some PASOK members.