ND leader eyes Aegean energy drilling

Greece and Cyprus must hammer out a joint economic strategy for the exploitation of offshore mineral deposits, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said in Nicosia on Monday.

Samaras, whose conservative party is leading polls for a general election penciled in for April, said Greece should follow the example of Cyprus and delineate maritime borders with its neighbors. The move is normally a precursor of oil and gas explorations.

?We believe that Greece sould undertake corresponding specific initiatives such as those taken by the late Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos in recognizing an exclusive economic zone [EEZ],? Samaras said after talks with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias and Democratic Rally chief Nicos Anastasiades.

?The existence of subsea wealth shows the depth of a common strategy which can be developed between Cyprus and Greece also in the economy,? Samaras said, adding that the reunification of the Mediterranean island remains the top priority of Greek foreign policy.

Cyprus has discovered an estimated 140-230 billion cubic meters of natural gas off its southern coast. Ankara has protested the drillings.

Back at home, New Democracy was busy assessing the damage of Samaras?s decision to expel 21 deputies who voted against Greece?s bailout deal in Parliament on Sunday.

?I did not overthrow a government, nor abandon the party,? Christos Zois, one of the ousted MPs, said in a thinly disguised attack on Samaras. ?I was ousted because I said on Sunday what we were all saying up until Saturday,? he said.

Samaras has sought to make up for the damage by welcoming Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis, both former senior members of the ultranationalist LAOS party.

Failos Kranidiotis, a ND hardliner, on Monday hailed the move, saying LAOS had come full circle. ?[The party] will come apart and any worthy cadres will be absorbed by ND,? he said.