NEWS

Simitis fights back

In a combative address to leading members of his party, Prime Minister Costas Simitis sought yesterday to deflect criticism of the government for alleged scandals and problems in the economy by blaming unnamed business interests and the «new right» opposition. Simitis’s speech to the joint meeting of PASOK’s Central Committee and parliamentary group was met with extensive applause and it appeared that the party had closed ranks around him. He made clear that he would be leading the party in the elections next May when the government’s four-year mandate ends. At times of heightened difficulty Simitis has worked to polarize voters, presenting the New Democracy party as a hard right-wing alternative to his Socialists. Simitis charged there was a conspiracy by business interests aimed at bringing down his government. «They are the ones who are truly tangled up with the conservatives, those who hope that a frightened government will take sides in their business disputes, those who want economic power to determine the functioning of the political system,» Simitis said. «Our people – we – will not allow such schemes to succeed.» Simitis defended close aides who were accused of corruption by Avriani newspaper publisher Giorgos Kouris, when he alleged that they were in the pocket of a businessman with whom Kouris was involved in a dispute over a television station. (Kouris and Athanassios Athanassoulis have since reached a compromise.) Simitis said his aides had been attacked in an effort to get at him. He also charged that the problems in the economy were being exaggerated. In closing remarks, he complained at the timing of the attacks during Greece’s turn as EU president. «In no other country did such an effort slur the country’s reputation during its term as EU president,» he said. «Nor did they call for the resignation of the finance minister during the presidency, when he has to chair Ecofin meetings and deal with major problems.» ND leader Costas Karamanlis replied: «Mr Simitis has a very bad adviser – panic. He stubbornly refuses to face reality. New Democracy will not follow Mr Simitis down the path of tension and division.»