NEWS

Rift between minister, government over sit-in comments played down

Alternate Minister for Citizens’ Protection Yiannis Panousis and the government on Friday played down the possibility of a rift over the former’s public expression of concern about the way the coalition is failing to deal with a wave of protests by anti-establishment groups.

“I support the prime minister and the government in general, everything else is groundless interpretations and suspicious distortion,” said Panousis in a statement after he penned an op-ed published on the front page of Ta Nea daily that posed challenging questions about the left and its tolerance of some forms of protest.

Panousis, who also published comments on Kathimerini’s website, questioned whether leftists wanted to see their cities and countries “without personal, social and national security as well as without an army, police, judges and prisons.”

The minister made his intervention after anti-establishment groups staged sit-in protests at several buildings, including Athens University, and entered Parliament’s courtyard. His comments caught Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s office by surprise as the SYRIZA leader thought he had allayed Panousis’s concerns by agreeing to transfer his portfolio to the Justice Ministry amid speculation that he is in conflict with his superior, Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis.

As a result, Tsipras’s office tried to play down the significance of what Panousis said. “The references made by Alternate Minister Panousis in his article clearly have nothing to do with government policy, members of the government or the political forces that support it.”

While Panousis’s comments upset some SYRIZA MPs and ministers, several defended him, including Education Minister Aristides Baltas. “Things cannot remain as loose as they are now,” he said in reference to the occupation of universities. “These places are places of education, research, free exchange of ideas. People must be allowed to go there and do their work.”