NEWS

‘Historic moments’

George Papandreou, who is on his way to becoming the third leader of the PASOK party that his father founded in 1974, met yesterday with party chairman and Prime Minister Costas Simitis, setting in motion the process for a leadership change ahead of elections which may be held well before the May deadline. Today Simitis will brief President Costis Stephanopoulos before chairing a joint meeting of his Cabinet and PASOK’s Executive Bureau. Simitis will address the news media at about 1 p.m. Leaving the apartment block on Anagnostopoulou Street in Kolonaki where Simitis lives, Papandreou gave few details after a two-hour meeting. No one has said officially that Simitis will step aside as party chairman for Papandreou, nor whether Simitis will stay on as prime minister until the elections, nor when elections will be held. All of these issues should be cleared up today. «We exchanged opinions on the initiatives of the next few days, which the prime minister has announced,» Papandreou, the foreign minister, told reporters. «Of course, we discussed more than politics. These are historic moments and they are very human moments, moments that are emotional for me, and more so for Costas Simitis,» he said. «From every neighborhood and every corner of the land we hear unprecedented messages of hope and optimism for a new course of renewal, for a course of changes. We want to meet these expectations and I believe that we will,» Papandreou said. Regarding «procedural issues,» he said, «We will discuss these in coming days.» Simitis’s sudden decision to hand over PASOK’s reins to Papandreou, who is the most popular of the party’s members, came after weeks of rumors that he would do something to try to overturn the conservative New Democracy party’s 8 percent lead in the polls ahead of the elections. Last night Papandreou indicated PASOK’s strategy to pursue the greatest possible support. «I think expectations are very great, hopes are very great,» he said. «I would say they cross the narrow bounds of a single party and this is in keeping with what I want. I believe that we must work nationally on the great issues faced by citizens, beyond party prejudices. I think that this is what the youth want, this synthesis, this consensus, this joint functioning. And it is a great challenge for us to work together for the Greece that we desire.» ND spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos commented, «Tonight’s meeting between Mr Simitis and Mr Papandreou can only go down in history as one more station on the way to PASOK’s defeat. PASOK will lose, not because it needed another wrapper, but because it failed to offer solutions to the country’s real problems.» Earlier, the government and ND exchanged angry words after Simitis was heckled in Piraeus at an Epiphany Day celebration. The government said the hecklers were ND supporters, while ND said they were laid-off workers at a fertilizer plant. The workers’ representatives denied this.