PM mulls next moves

Prime Minister Costas Simitis, returning to Greece after the EU-US summit in Washington, and a few days before handing the EU’s presidency over to his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, secluded himself at his country house near Corinth yesterday. As Simitis has signaled that he will reshuffle his Cabinet and may also make changes to top leadership positions in the PASOK party, this left party friends and foes guessing this weekend. Simitis is to chair a Cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss the results of the EU presidency. Opposition New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis, however, welcomed Simitis back to the world of Greek politics yesterday after his EU presidency with a call for immediate elections. «The national interest calls for elections now. The prime minister himself has admitted that initiatives are needed. The only effective initiative is elections. Greece cannot endure a long-drawn out pre-election period nor political party games,» Karamanlis said at the end of a speech to his party’s parliamentary group. He called on Simitis to show «elementary logic and a sense of responsibility.» The government’s four-year term ends next spring and it is not likely to call early elections at a time when opinion polls consistently show it trailing New Democracy by about 8 percent and the major construction projects being built for the Athens 2004 Olympics are not yet completed so that PASOK may reap any benefits from this. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas said that elections will be held in May 2004. «In order to appease a section of his party audience, the president of New Democracy has changed his position and is trying to create impressions by setting off political fireworks,» Protopappas declared. «With Costas Simitis leading us, with our achievements and our potential, we are confident of a new victory,» he added. Speculation is rife over what Simitis might choose to do to change the political climate. Opinions range from his making radical changes to the Cabinet and party in order to present a sense of renewal or to make limited changes so as not to rock the boat in the runup to elections. Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, a former rival for PASOK’s leadership, yesterday renewed his call for what he describes as a return to the policies that benefit grassroots supporters. «The end of Greece’s EU presidency signals the start of a new collective dynamic course for PASOK,» he said.

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