Minister pressed on leadership

On a day when he secured a breakthrough in talks with state hospital doctors, Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos backed away yesterday from comments he had made in which he seemed to suggest that New Democracy should start thinking about a leadership contest. During an interview with Sunday’s Eleftherotypia, Avramopoulos said that the party’s supporters, rather than just delegates at a party conference, should elect New Democracy’s next leader. The comment was immediately interpreted as a swipe at Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and an attempt to broach the subject of who will be ND’s next leader. With the conservatives trailing in the opinion polls and speculation mounting about an early election, many think that Karamanlis would not survive an electoral defeat. Avramopoulos issued a statement saying that because speculation had linked him with a bid for the leadership, he simply wished to clarify his views on the matter. «This issue has now been cleared up and is over,» he said. «Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis will be the candidate again and we will be by his side.» The health minister, a former mayor of the city of Athens, is one of the favorites to be in the running for the presidency of New Democracy should Karamanlis step aside. Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros was repeatedly questioned about Avramopoulos’s comment yesterday and indicated his frustration with the minister’s position. «The government spokesman gets involved with ministers as regard matters that relate to their duties,» he said. «The prime minister is mainly involved with making the government’s pledges reality.» Several high-ranking party officials also expressed their disappointment with Avramopoulos’s remarks. The furor over the health minister’s remarks came on the day that he made what he called a «historically significant» agreement with state hospital doctors over their pay and working hours. The two sides had been involved in fractious negotiations for two years and have now agreed on a basic timetable of seven continuous hours five days a week with a guaranteed day off after every time they are on call.

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