PM tries to contain crisis

As Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis toured northern Greece over the weekend in a bid to demonstrate social sensitivity and revive his government’s flagging fortunes, the Vatopedi land exchange scandal took a new turn that could further shake his beleaguered administration. Visiting Kozani on Saturday, Karamanlis pledged to push through reforms to support low-income citizens. With the government’s draft budget for 2009 due to be unveiled on Thursday, the premier’s comments focused on the economy and he reiterated his request for the country’s banks to display sensitivity at this difficult time for households and businesses. The premier is particularly keen to show that his government can contain the impact of the global financial crisis, as polls show the main opposition party PASOK gaining ground against ruling New Democracy. The most recent poll by Public Issue puts PASOK 3.5 percent ahead of ND. With pressure mounting, along with speculation of a reshuffle, a series of new twists in the Vatopedi land trade scandal created fresh woes for ND over the weekend. A video aired on private television channel Antenna on Friday night shows Michalis Koukovinos, husband of lawyer Tania Sotiropoulou, who represents the owners of land involved in the disputed transactions, asking an unidentified businessman for a sum of money in return for him not revealing details about the land swaps. Koukovinos reportedly has not disputed the legitimacy of the video, supposedly made in July last year, but alleges to have been forced to make the comments on the tape. If the video is found to be legitimate, it would take some heat off Karamanlis who, Sotiropoulou has attested, had approved all the Vatopedi land deals. Earlier last week, Sotiropoulou had quoted Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis as saying that the orders for all the Vatopedi land swaps had come directly from Karamanlis’s office. Over the weekend Psomiadis told Mega Channel that he had never said such things about the premier and that he has an audio tape that will back his claims.