NEWS

Simitis declares he is in charge

In a series of speeches and news conferences in Thessaloniki over the weekend, Prime Minister Costas Simitis made clear that he had put the turmoil over his government’s retreat on social security reform behind him and was looking forward to strengthening his hand in the party at next month’s early congress. What I will pursue and what I hope I will achieve at the congress is a clear mandate, a strong mandate to complete my task, Simitis said in a news conference yesterday. Simitis had reportedly threatened to resign in a dramatic meeting of his PASOK party’s executive bureau in late June unless his leading aides accepted his proposal for the congress to be held six months ahead of schedule, in October. The prime minister reportedly told his aides that he could not accept continual complaints from party dissenters about his government’s policies. From his arrival in Thessaloniki on Friday afternoon, Simitis made clear that he would not sway from his policy – a combination of economic stability, incentives for development and generous spending to assist the needier sectors of society. He promised tax reforms next year and heralded the opening of all markets. He declared that the social security issue has to be tackled right away. Simitis appeared to challenge dissenters in the party by declaring, in effect, that he had heard their arguments but would not waver from his course. I want to repeat what I have said many times before, he said yesterday. I will lead PASOK in the elections of 2004. Because I have a task to complete, because there is a plan for which I feel a responsibility and this project has to move ahead. Asked to comment on Foreign Minister George Papandreou’s recent statement that he might consider being a contender for the position of party leader when the time arose, Simitis said: Mr. Papandreou is a distinguished cadre. He is a cadre who has offered much and is justified in having ambitions, just as every PASOK cadre who has worked, has offered, has promoted PASOK’s work. Simitis is expected to carry out a major Cabinet reshuffle after the congress on October 11-14 and he was asked to comment about this. There is always interest in who will play what role, but I believe that this is not something that interests the people, he said. People are interested in the government doing its job well and this is where the government will be judged. Referring to the social security issue, in which his government pulled back proposals that were condemned by unions, opposition parties and even many PASOK members as leading to lower pensions at a higher retirement age, Simitis conceded that mistakes may have been made in handling the problem. In all problems, mistakes are made, he said. Whoever takes decisions can make mistakes. Those who make no mistakes are those who have no opinion and take no decisions. He noted that the General Confederation of Greek Labor would be holding a national congress on social security at the end of September. We hope and believe that immediately afterward a dialogue will begin… to achieve the solution with the broadest possible consensus. We are not trying to delay this. We are just trying to prepare better the way to deal with this exceptionally significant issue. Opposition demands specifics Opposition parties yesterday charged that Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s comments in Thessaloniki were long on generalities and short on specifics. Costas Karamanlis, leader of the conservative New Democracy party, accused Simitis of having wasted time and funds. Mr. Simitis, for so many years, spoke about figures, forgetting about people. Now, in light of his party congress, he is pretending to remember society. He is forgetting, though, the more than 500,000 unemployed. He is forgetting the more than 2.5 million Greeks who live below the poverty line. He is forgetting the abandonment of the countryside. And he said nothing about the crime on the Sophocleous Street bourse, where 1.5 million citizens lost their lives’ savings, Karamanlis charged. The Communist Party accused Simitis of generously handing the money of the workers to the employers while promising breaks to the employees that would then be taken back in other ways. There can be no social policy with unemployment, flexible work hours and by selling out strategic sectors of the economy to private interests, the party said in a statement. The Left Coalition said Simitis had indulged in generalizations and self-congratulation. The widespread violence by demonstrators that officials feared at Thessaloniki during Simitis’s opening of the International Trade Fair, and which prompted them to import 46 riot squads and cordon off the city center, failed to materialize. On Saturday evening, a few hundred protesters, mainly activists from the Genoa 2001 anti-globalization movement, scuffled with police, who would not let them approach the Ioannis Velidis conference center where Simitis was speaking. -A news conference on the issue German World War II reparations is held at the Old Parliament building at 7 p.m. Speakers include Yiannis Stamoulis, lawyer for the relatives of victims of the Distomo massacre, former Justice Minister G. A. Mangakis and resistance hero Manolis Glezos.