PM wants ‘change’

Prime Minister Costas Simitis leaves for Washington today, where he will represent the EU presidency at a summit tomorrow aimed at restoring transatlantic ties rattled by the crisis over Iraq. Simitis hosted a private lunch for the US president’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, who was visiting Athens yesterday, to prepare for tomorrow’s talks. But Simitis has another serious rift to try to bridge when he returns to Athens on Saturday: the widening gulf among senior members of his own party. And much will depend on the actions of the prime minister in the first 10 days of July, when he has indicated that he will make changes to his Cabinet and may also change PASOK’s Executive Bureau. The Cabinet is to meet on Monday to discuss the results of Greece’s six-month EU presidency, but the prime minister may address some of the problems facing his government. Simitis took the opportunity of the memorial service commemorating the seventh anniversary of PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou’s death to take up the late leader’s slogan of «change» in a warning to party members. «Today we remember Andreas Papandreou, who started the endeavor of change. This endeavor remains a challenge for all of us today,» Simitis said in a ceremony at Athens’s First Cemetery. The current rift concerns a furious reaction by PASOK General Secretary Costas Laliotis on Friday to a hint that he may be victim of the Executive Bureau’s restructuring. This followed the forced resignation on Wednesday of State Minister Stefanos Manikas and Executive Bureau member Michalis Neonakis after it emerged that they had traded large amounts of money on the Athens Stock Exchange (although no wrongdoing was ascertained). The two were close aides of Simitis. Although both sides have said there is no problem, tension appears to remain between Simitis and Laliotis. This was exacerbated yesterday by a report in the daily Ta Nea that Laliotis had telephoned Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, Environment Minister Vasso Papandreou, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Executive Bureau member Christos Papoutsis on Friday in an apparent effort to forge a common front against any changes Simitis might be planning which could affect them. Some ministers said privately that the issue of the general secretary was not closed.

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