NEWS

Party leaders trade punches

Fighting back against intense opposition criticism focusing on his government’s alleged links with shady business concerns, Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday tried to turn the tables on conservative New Democracy. «(ND officials) say: You are the embodiment of shady deals with business concerns,» Simitis told a party meeting in the northern town of Veria, at the start of a two-day tour of the regions of Imathia and Pella. »They speak of decay and corruption, they say business interests are in alliance, business interests are fighting each other. I return their words to them. Their words are their mirror,» he said. «I only acknowledge one group of interests, and that is the interests of the country. The leadership of New Democracy does not respect and honor these interests, and neither do the centers that covertly or openly back (ND).» The premier and his ruling PASOK party have repeatedly been accused by ND of maintaining overly close links with businessmen and media groups. But the conservatives have refrained from naming names. Following the prosecution last week of telecoms magnate Socrates Kokkalis on six felony counts that include espionage on behalf of the former East Germany, money laundering and fraud, ND has upped its rhetoric. Yesterday, ND chairman Costas Karamanlis – also on a tour of northern Greece – responded to Simitis’s speech in a similar vein. «In a panic attack, Mr Simitis is once again trying to poison Greek politics,» he told a party meeting in the village of Margariti in Epirus. «We understand his despair and his loneliness… His certain defeat in the next elections has stricken him with phobias, which leads him to defame and provoke us. We know that every time his government is in a tight spot, he resorts to talk of the past, employing so-called hard rock tactics, polarization and mud-slinging.»