NEWS

Anti-racism legislation divides coalition

A contentious anti-racism bill appeared to be causing an ever-widening rift within the fragile coalition government on Monday, as the two junior partners, PASOK and Democratic Left, pushed for it to be submitted to Parliament without delay, conservative New Democracy insisted on key changes being made, while Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis appeared set to resign if his bill is watered down.

The bill, the stated aim of which is to impose tougher penalties on individuals or groups inciting racial hatred but which is chiefly an attempt by the government to curb the growing influence of the ultra-right Golden Dawn, was one of a series of topics discussed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras with his aides on Monday. Other topics included Samaras’s visit to China last week, Wednesday’s European Union summit in Brussels and a planned trip to Athens on Thursday by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

According to sources, ND is keen to avert an escalation in tensions over the bill but is unwavering in its conviction that changes should be made to it before it goes to Parliament. Samaras is reportedly keen to avoid a clash with the Greek Orthodox Church, following complaints by Bishop Amvrosios of Kalavryta that the bill would “muzzle” the church and grant “impunity” to immigrants, as well as with the armed forces.

ND is reportedly eager to ensure that the bill would not bring into question Greece’s position on sensitive national issues such as the recognition as genocide of the persecution suffered by Black Sea Greeks, Armenians and Greeks of Asia Minor.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou sought to play down the rift on Monday, saying that the bill will be submitted to Parliament in the coming weeks.

The main leftist opposition, SYRIZA, which has its own problems with internal divisions, jumped on the opportunity for criticism, interpreting ND’s foot-dragging on the bill as an indication of its ideological affinities with Golden Dawn.