NEWS

Arms in election race

The two protagonists in the March 7 elections, New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who is expected to become chairman of ruling PASOK next month, took their election campaigns to remote parts of the country over the weekend. Karamanlis went to the Peloponnese, including a visit to Ancient Olympia, while Papandreou went up to the northeastern region of Thrace, which borders with Turkey and also hosts part of Greece’s Muslim minority. In Alexandroupolis on Saturday, Papandreou promised that if PASOK is reelected, he will propose a «gradual and balanced» reduction of arms spending by Greece and Turkey. In the town of Xanthi yesterday, he defended PASOK’s achievements but admitted that «some people are justified in saying that somewhere they lost us, that we closed ourselves up, that PASOK became a closed caste… But it is not that we were not working. The work is evident.» He stressed that PASOK would have to change. «And I think that the grand gesture by our chairman, Costas Simitis, showed the way. He said that we are here to serve the people, we are not here to warm chairs, we too want to change,» Papandreou said, referring to the prime minister’s decision to step down. Karamanlis, in Tripolis yesterday, commented that ND had cared about people in remote regions long before the elections. «On the contrary, our eye is on the future while others preach the past,» Karamanlis said. In Olympia, he expressed support for an idea that a race of two-seater cars using alternative forms of energy be held each Olympic year from Olympia to the host city. «This will send a strong message of civilization and support for the environment,» Karamanlis said. Papandreou was met warmly by Muslim minority members. «We have broken the walls between Christians and Muslims and we are moving toward a multicultural Greece,» he said in Didymoteicho. «We Greek Muslims are at your side,» the town’s imam, Hassan Mohammed, said. Regarding Papandreou’s call for lower defense spending, ND commented that he was a member of a government that had committed Greece to paying 18 trillion drachmas (53 billion euros) for arms over the next decade. ND’s defense spokesman, Spelios Speliotopoulos, speaking to Kathimerini, proposed that national service be reduced from 12 months now to 6 by 2005. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said the government was considering further cuts.