Claims fly over bird flu

Opponents derided the government yesterday over its handling of the suspected outbreak of bird flu in Greece as experts from the Thessaloniki laboratory which received the first samples of the infected turkey began giving evidence to prosecutors about the affair. PASOK attacked the ruling conservatives for the confusion over whether bird flu has actually reached Greece. PASOK spokesman Nikos Athanassakis said the government had handled the situation with «remarkable incompetence and a lack of skill.» Agricultural Development Minister Evangelos Bassiakos said Monday that bird flu had been found in a dead turkey on the eastern Aegean island of Oinouses. On Thursday, EU officials said preliminary tests on samples sent to them had proved negative. The Socialists have accused Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis of subsequently taking Bassiakos out of the firing line to prevent any lasting damage to the government. «I have heard of ministers resigning and being fired but it is a first for a minister to be put in quarantine,» Athanassakis said. But the government insisted that it had handled the situation properly. «From the first moment, we emphasized the need to stay calm, that there was no need to panic,» said alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros. «We were proved right.» To compound the confusion, it was still unclear yesterday what had happened to the turkey in question. Supreme Court prosecutor Dimitris Linos has ordered an investigation after allegations that the turkeys from the Oinouses farm had not been tagged properly and that there had been a mix-up with the samples taken by officials. Panayiotis Stefanou, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases in Thessaloniki, appeared before a local prosecutor yesterday to answer questions about claims that samples had been lost or mixed up. Three EU experts who are in Greece to inspect the procedures followed visited the laboratory in Thessaloniki yesterday. They refused to make any comments about their inspections.