NEWS

Cabinet shows continuity and minor change

With a Cabinet reshuffle far less dramatic than the sweeping changes in the ruling PASOK party leadership had suggested, Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday changed the heads of four ministries and replaced five deputy ministers. The replacement of Costas Laliotis by Michalis Chrysochoidis as general secretary at a meeting of PASOK’s Central Committee on Thursday had been accompanied by Simitis’s declarations of major change in the party and government. Although most members of the party’s powerful Executive Bureau were changed, the reshuffled Cabinet showed greater concern for keeping people in their posts while making minor changes aimed at inviting voters from the Left and Right while maintaining ties with PASOK’s old guard. Ministers involved with preparations for the Athens 2004 Olympics stayed at their posts, apparently in order to avoid wasting any time. Only the minister in charge of security was changed. Chrysochoidis’s appointment as PASOK general secretary in an effort to broaden the party’s appeal to centrist voters opened the way for his replacement as public order minister by Giorgos Floridis, who moves up from deputy finance minister. Giorgos Paschalidis moves down from the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry in northern Greece to take over the Merchant Marine Ministry from Giorgos Anomeritis, who leaves the Cabinet. Alexandros Akrivakis, a veteran PASOK MP, takes over as state minister and will be responsible for contacts with party MPs. The post was vacated by Stefanos Manikas last month amid claims that he had invested large amounts of money on the stock exchange (although he was not accused of any wrongdoing). Haris Kastanidis, a former minister from Thessaloniki, will take over the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry. The greatest interest was provided by the appointment of Vassilis Kontoyiannopoulos as deputy health minister and Nikos Bistis as deputy interior minister. The former had served as education minister in a New Democracy government in 1990-93 but has since left the conservatives, and Bistis resigned from Synaspismos Left Coalition to lead a splinter group called AEKA. Old guard PASOK members such as Akrivakis, Kastanidis and the new deputy development minister, Kimon Koulouris, were a signal that though Simitis was opening links with Left and Right he was also keeping bridges open with members of PASOK who might have been upset by Laliotis’s removal. Other new Cabinet members are Deputy Finance Minister Nikos Farmakis, Deputy Defense Minister Theodoros Kotsonis and Deputy Education Minister Giorgos Thomas. The Cabinet will be sworn in on Monday. Simitis is expected to announce a «directorate» to keep tabs on ministers’ work. «For two days the prime minister was laboring to come up with a reshuffle and he did not manage to do even that,» ND leader Costas Karamanlis commented. «He cannot carry out the renewal that he claims to pursue,» he added, renewing his call for early elections. Elections are due by Spring. Opinion polls show PASOK trailing ND by about 8 percent. US Ambassador Thomas Miller yesterday dismissed as «ridiculous» a claim by Costas Laliotis on Thursday that Miller was to blame for his dismissal as PASOK’s general secretary. «That’s ridiculous,» Miller told reporters at his residence during a July 4 celebration. «This is a government matter. It has nothing to do with the Americans, with the Embassy.» Laliotis rejoined, «No comment. You can judge him by what he said.» Foreign Minister George Papandreou said, «All this refers to a Greece of the past. Greece has shown its proud foreign policy from the time of Andreas Papandreou and even more so now, with the initiatives it has taken.»