Simitis backtracks on weekend claims of ‘pre-junta’ mood

Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his PASOK government were yesterday involved in trying to tone down the statements he had made over the weekend in which he claimed that unnamed forces were trying to bring down the government in a «murky landscape» reminiscent of the time that brought a dictatorship upon Greece. The prime minister’s annoyance came after the revelations that followed criminal charges brought by a prosecutor against billionaire businessman Socrates Kokkalis last week and the subsequent revelations that Kokkalis allegedly had close ties with the defunct East German security apparatus, the Stasi, and had also funded PASOK and the conservative New Democracy parties and the Communist Party. Simitis charges of a plot to overturn the political system caused disagreement even within PASOK, where many officials saw the unscripted comments as a slip which raised the political tension a few notches above what it should be. Simitis himself took the lead yesterday in redefining the level at which the political rivalry with the opposition New Democracy party is being conducted. In a meeting with PASOK MPs from western Greece, he repeated the charge that some people were trying to undermine politics, but he added that «the quarrel with New Democracy is not over the trappings of power but is a clear political dispute, because we represent different political proposals and social groups.» Government spokesman Christos Protopappas also made clarifying statements, stressing that Simitis’s comments regarding «the effort to create a murky landscape, to wear down and undermine institutions, were essentially what was weakening the political system.» After noting that «no one can disagree» with the comments by Parliament Speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis that the political system is stable, he tried to take the fight to New Democracy by saying that ND leader Costas Karamanlis was the only one who had accused a political leader, namely Simitis, of working on a political plan to overturn the political system. The efforts to tone down Simitis’s claims followed a meeting between the prime minister and close aides where they evaluated the negative publicity over his allegations, even among papers allied to the government. Simitis himself stressed at the meeting that «democracy today is not threatened by a dictatorship but from the undermining of politics and politicians.» At the same time, many in the government camp say that the efforts to redefine the political battle will come to nothing as long as the government does not deal with the problem that has caused all the turmoil – the criminal charges against Kokkalis and the revelations that followed. That has caused Simitis to consider answering in Parliament on Friday the demand by former ND president Miltiades Evert that Simitis name the interests allegedly promoting political turmoil. Indeed, PASOK officials believe that all the major parties will have to take a stand on the Kokkalis issue. They noted yesterday that PASOK had immediately denied a report by the East German security apparatus that Kokkalis had funded PASOK, ND and the Communist Party in 1986, New Democracy issued no such denial. Meanwhile, another former ND leader, former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, denied a claim by a German MP that he had made a deal with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1992 not to press the German investigation into Kokkalis’s Stasi ties too far, in exchange for the speedy extradition of Stasi agent Helmut Voigt. «With Chancellor Kohl, with whom I had and have a close personal relationship, we never discussed Stasi issues, except for the issue of terrorism, where I had asked for his help,» Mitsotakis said in a letter to Kathimerini.

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