NEWS

Parties unite to defend president

Greece’s political parties joined in a rare show of unity yesterday to defend President Costis Stephanopoulos after a journalist on a fringe television channel accused the popular head of state of renting a shop to someone who allegedly was using it as an illegal gambling den. The shop is in Patras, Stephanopoulos’s home town in the Peloponnese. The allegations are the latest in a scandal that broke last week when investigative reporter Makis Triantafyllopoulos on Alpha channel presented video footage purporting to show Alexandros Chrysanthakopoulos, a member of Parliament for the ruling PASOK party and head of an informal parliamentary committee on illegal gambling, using a video game machine that had been tampered with to function as a one-armed bandit. Prime Minister Costas Simitis expelled the MP from PASOK’s parliamentary group the following day but a torrent of charges and countercharges between the government and opposition continued to fill the airwaves. This prompted Stephanopoulos to criticize illegal gambling earlier this week and the sensationalist coverage it had received. «I believe Greece needs to show its good side as well. It is sad and depressing to see everyone involved with the bad side, whether it exists or not. There is good and bad and a distinction should be made between the legal and the illegal,» he said on Tuesday. «Our criterion is the law. Whoever is on the side of the law is good, whoever violates the law serves the other side.» Spyros Karadzaferis, an investigative journalist who has been known to make outrageous allegations, declared yesterday on Extra channel that Stephanopoulos himself benefited from an illegal gambling operation. This allegation suddenly raised the specter of a political crisis, prompting Simitis to make a strong statement of support in which he suggested the danger of the president’s resignation. «Mr Stephanopoulos is an example of ethical behavior. Whoever attacks him the way they did today is an example of sordid behavior. Their effort to destabilize our institutions will not succeed,» Simitis said immediately after returning from a visit to Belgium. Stephanopoulos is a conservative who is highly respected across the political spectrum and was voted into his second five-year term in 2000 with the unprecedented honor of being backed by both PASOK and the conservative New Democracy party. He is famous for his principles. This raised the specter of his sudden resignation and the need for Parliament to elect a successor. Had PASOK and the opposition not united (as they could not be expected to) to achieve the mandatory minimum of 180 votes in the 300-seat chamber, Parliament would have to be dissolved and national elections would have to be held – at a time when no party is prepared for them. But sources close to the president said he would not consider resigning and so cause a political crisis. The government and major parties rushed to declare their support. Simitis, New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis, Parliament Speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis and Communist Party chief Aleka Papariga immediately telephoned the president. The government spokesman, New Democracy, the ruling PASOK party and the Coalition of the Left issued statements of support. Later, Stephanopoulos issued a statement saying: «It is greatly unpleasant to me that my name has been involved in the issue of electronic gaming. I never conceived of the possibility of any activities contrary to the law and morals could be attributed to me,» he said. «I express my warmest thanks to the political world and to all those who expressed their confidence in me and their esteem.»