Samaras softens stance on ND rebels

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras caused a few eyebrows to be raised Wednesday when he said the 21 MPs who had been ousted from the party for voting against the terms of Greece?s new loan agreement earlier this month could rejoin the conservatives if they back the bailout bills that will go before Parliament over the next few days.

?Even those colleagues who departed the party recently are welcome to return if they can prove over the next few crucial days that they are prepared to back the party,? he said.

Samaras?s statement surprised some New Democracy members but it is seen by some commentators as an attempt by the conservative leader to heal any open wounds before general elections and to obtain the widest support possible for the legislation that will be voted in Parliament in the days to come.

Three of the 21 MPs that were ousted for not approving the austerity measures and structural reforms Greece is being asked to implement as part of new bailout said they would not consider a return to the party.

?I stick by my position,? former Toursim Minister Costas Markopoulos told Skai Radio. Christos Zois and Margaritis Tzimas also said they would not change their minds.

However, sources said that at least four ousted MPs are considering Samaras?s invitation to return to the ND fold.

The conservative leader insisted Wednesday that general elections would be held within ?the next two months.? Two PASOK ministers suggested that the interim government led by Prime Minister Lucas Papademos should stay in power for a little longer.

?It would be good if the government of Lucas Papademos had more time. People must feel that something is changing,? Environment Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou told Germany?s Die Zeit newspaper.