NEWS

ND’s Karamanlis declares Greece is changing course

Wrapping up an election campaign that could see him leading his conservative New Democracy party to power after a decade in opposition, Costas Karamanlis addressed a mass rally in central Athens last night, setting out the basic principles he will follow if elected. Despite the cold and rain, tens of thousands of supporters chanted slogans and waved flags enthusiastically, scenting victory within their grasp. New Democracy has governed only between 1990-93 since incumbent PASOK swept to power in a landslide in 1981. Opinion polls published a week ago gave ND about a 3 percent lead over PASOK. Karamanlis, 47, who has led ND since March 1997, was at pains to stress his message of unity. As the election campaign has become increasingly tense, the conservatives have had to answer charges that they are intent on carrying out mass dismissals if they are elected. Also, PASOK claimed Wednesday it had evidence ND was behind the dissemination at churches of a brochure depicting PASOK leader George Papandreou as an atheist, a blasphemer and someone in favor of soft drugs. ND has denied the charge. «We have a vision of a Greece of culture and education, of a government with vision and a plan. Capable people can be found in every (political) sector,» Karamanlis said. «We embrace all Greeks, no matter what they vote. We will create a state that will act responsibly,» he added. Stressing the importance of Sunday’s vote, Karamanlis urged everyone to participate and avoid displays of fanaticism. «I commit myself that on March 8, I will serve our homeland faithfully and live up to your confidence. Greece is changing course,» Karamanlis said. He charged that PASOK caused poverty, a withering agriculture, a decline in tourism, de-industrialization and dead ends for small- and medium-sized companies. He claimed also that PASOK was to blame for allegedly great losses of EU funds because these were not applied for and heavy fines were paid for a lack of transparency. The EU, he said, had found widespread corruption and was threatening to curb new funding. Karamanlis said ND’s priority would be to make the state show respect for citizens. He also called for the need to end the division that has long plagued Greece. «I was born in a Greece injured by division. I grew up in a Greece which struggled to leave behind the divisions that plagued it. I did not choose to serve my country so that I could invest in the wounds of the past. I did not choose to serve my country to invest in the dilemmas of another era,» Karamanlis stressed, answering a PASOK which has tried to play up the difference between Left and Right. Karamanlis said his government would serve all Greeks and that its second priority was to create jobs, saying PASOK had deprived the Greeks of pride. The third priority was to bring wages and pensions in line with the EU average. The fourth was support for farmers and – fifth – for small- and medium-sized businesses. Its sixth priority was dealing with everyday problems, ensuring a high level of health services. The ND government’s seventh priority would be the successful staging of the Olympic Games, which Karamanlis, like PASOK, described as a national issue.