NEWS

Greek government in bid to mend rift over anti-racism bill

In a bid to mend a widening rift in his fragile government regarding the fate of a contentious anti-racism bill, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is to meet with his coalition partners on Monday afternoon for talks that are expected to be heated amid reports that the smaller parties feel sidelined by conservative New Democracy.

The meeting, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Maximos Mansion, was called to resolve an internal dispute over a piece of legislation that is ostensibly aimed at imposing tougher penalties on racial hatred but is also intended to curb the growing influence of the ultra-right Golden Dawn.

Over the past week, ND officials have expressed concerns that the bill could impinge on freedom of expression, prompting angry reactions from the two smaller parties, PASOK and Democratic Left, who want the bill to go to Parliament without delay.

The bill has also caused upheaval within the government’s inner circle with Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis, who is aligned with Democratic Left, pushing back against ND’s attempts to freeze the bill, or to heavily amend it before submission. Democratic Left officials and other critics have accused the conservatives of yielding to opposition to the bill by the Church and the armed forces.

PASOK officials have struck a similar tone. Over the weekend, the socialists’ leader, Evangelos Venizelos went a step further, firing a broadside at arch-rival ND for its general approach to governance. Addressing his party’s political central committee on Saturday, Venizelos accused ND of “thinking that the government is a one-party administration” and repeated that PASOK is “cooperating with ND but is not politically aligned with it.”

In comments that suggested he would push again for a cabinet reshuffle, Venizelos said he would call for “a comprehensive evaluation of the operation of the government and its representatives.”

On the spat over the anti-racism law, Venizelos spoke of “an unacceptable public dispute” which cast the government in a bad light.