Clash over union death

A row broke out between the ruling conservatives and PASOK yesterday over the death of a postal unionist who collapsed after an argument between members of unions which are affiliated to the rival parties. PASOK head George Papandreou accused the government of allowing a «state within a state» to develop, leading to the death of Michalis Gourneziakis, but New Democracy blasted the Socialist leader for trying to make political gain from a loss of life. Gourneziakis, the secretary of the union of qualified postal workers and a member of PASKE, the PASOK-affiliated trade union, was pronounced dead after being taken to the hospital at around 4 a.m. He had earlier been called to a hotel in central Athens where the two-day election for the new leadership of the postal workers’ union was taking place. Union members had spotted two suspicious men lurking in the hotel. Gourneziakis confronted the men after discovering that one was a former colleague and member of the New Democracy-affiliated union DAKE. The men refused to answer questions and an argument broke out, police said. The 56-year-old collapsed soon afterward. Some witnesses claimed he was struck by one of the men. However, chief coroner Philippos Koutsaftis said an initial autopsy suggested that an inflammation of the lungs led to the unionist’s death. Koutsaftis said he did not find any evidence that Gourneziakis had been hit. A prosecutor last night ordered a second autopsy to be carried out after a request by the unionist’s family. Speaking before the results of the first autopsy had been made public, Papandreou said Gourneziakis had been attacked by thugs and accused the government of being indirectly responsible for the death of the unionist. «Unfortunately, this is the result of the government’s policies which divide workers, polarize society and create the ground for these dangerous incidents to develop,» he said. Papandreou’s comments were backed by PASKE. The allegations were rebuffed by the government. «It is untimely, if not dangerous, for our democratic values that the PASOK president is trying to make petty political gains from a person’s death,» said government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos.