Samaras sacrifices friend for ND peace

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who is set to unveil his economic program tomorrow, moved Friday to prevent a serious internal rift in his party by removing from the conservatives? candidate list a hopeful with a controversial past within the party.

Samaras prompted a backlash in his party when he picked Giorgos Simbilidis as a candidate for Kilkis in central Macedonia earlier this week. Simbilidis is a controversial figure in New Democracy as his decision to quit the party in 1993 triggered the collapse of the conservative government led by Constantine Mitsotakis. PASOK won the subsequent elections and the incident is a painful memory for the conservatives.

However, Simbilidis remained close to Samaras, who surprised many within ND when he picked him as a candidate. While Samaras also quit the Mitsotakis government to form his own party, Political Spring, he subsequently restored his reputation with conservative voters.

Sources said that it was decided late on Thursday during a meeting between Samaras and advisers at ND headquarters on Syngrou Avenue in Athens that Simbilidis should be removed from the conservative ticket. The would-be lawmaker issued a statement Friday saying he was stepping down.

?The past cannot separate us anymore,? he said. ?I give up my candidacy in Kilkis but remain at the side of Antonis Samaras.?

The New Democracy leader responded with a statement complimenting Simbilidis. ?I salute his decision, which shows a spirit of unity and decisiveness for victory,? he said.

Samaras is expected to explain in his economic policy speech tomorrow how he will find the money to increase payments to low-income pensioners and large families. The ND leader is not expected to go into further detail about what alternative reductions he proposes compared to some 11 billion euros of savings that Greece will have to agree with its lenders in June.