Parties fear graft claims

Both the government and the main opposition party sought yesterday to distance themselves from claims of widespread conflict of interest, with senior officials saying that some of the accusations were vague but that in others the politicians accused had an obligation to respond. This came after weeks of a populist formerly pro-PASOK newspaper’s allegations that senior members of the ruling party were compromised by being too close to a businessman with extensive dealings with the State. Then, on Tuesday, excerpts of a book by the former editor of a conservative newspaper claiming that the opposition New Democracy party was unduly influenced by many of its members’ close ties with business and publishing interests, appeared to imply that many Greek politicians were caught up in conflicts of interest. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas, who has taken Avriani publisher Giorgos Kouris to court for accusing him of taking money from businessman Athanassios Athanassoulis, said the government could not comment on news reports. But he said: «When there is an issue that concerns them directly, politicians must respond in person.» ND secretary Evangelos Meimarakis said there were often claims that were vague and did not need a response – «claims that could involve PASOK and New Democracy and all parties,» as he put it. «But when accusations are specific and concern specific people, they must be replied to with convincing arguments,» he said. Premier Costas Simitis is currently on a tour of European capitals. He has said in two recent statements that his priority is the EU presidency, until this ends at the end of June. But PASOK members are pressing him to act before that, fearing inertia in the face of claims of scandal will cause the party more harm. Yesterday, three close aides of Simitis who are prominent members of his reformist wing, called for extensive renewal of the political system. Cabinet secretary Socrates Cosmidis called for a reduction from the 18 current ministries to 12-14, with only one deputy minister and general secretary each. The ministers should all be located close together – in the Parliament building or near it – Cosmidis said, in order to force closer cooperation. Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, in clear opposition to party General Secretary Costas Laliotis, said that the «polarity between progress and conservatism is not necessarily equated by the polarity between Left and Right.» National Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said Greece had achieved notable successes on the international scene but that, «instead of this, we are living in a very different climate and we have to change this, investing the diplomatic and economic strengthening of our country in promoting domestic reforms.»

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