ND looks to close ranks

The government yesterday sought to play down an apparent split within the Cabinet over its handling of recent corruption allegations as one of its deputy ministers said he was suing an opposition MP for defamation. Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou said that he was suing PASOK MP Kimon Koulouris for 300,000 euros because he had damaged the New Democracy official’s «honor and standing as an MP and deputy minister.» Koulouris alleged on television that Papathanassiou had close ties to the FAGE dairy firm. He claimed that the company had helped with the deputy minister’s pre-election campaign. Papathanassiou asked Koulouris to retract his statement on Sunday. But the PASOK MP and former minister did not take any action. «Not only did he not retract the defamatory remarks he made, he threatened to make new revelations,» said Papathanassiou. «He will have an opportunity to reveal them in court.» Koulouris said he had «nothing to be afraid of.» Following the recent alleged blackmail of the Mevgal dairy firm by a Competition Commission director, PASOK has accused Papathanassiou and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas of meddling in the watchdog’s affairs. The ruling conservatives deny they have intervened. However, the flow of allegations have caused unease within the Cabinet, as some ministers feel that New Democracy is losing the political initiative to PASOK, sources said. There is also disquiet over the role of Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis who has been under pressure to resign. Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis denied that there was backstabbing among ministers and told reporters that the government would overcome the recent negative climate. Meanwhile, Papathanassiou said that his ministry was proposing doubling the shelf life of fresh milk from 5 to 10 days in a bid to bring down prices. The deputy minister said that this move would lead to the price of milk in Greece dropping by at least 10 percent.