Sources: PM to fire health minister soon

Prime Minister Costas Simitis has decided to sack Alekos Papadopoulos from his Cabinet, following the health minister’s announcement last Sunday that he will not seek re-election in the next parliamentary elections, reliable sources said yesterday. This is expected to occur as soon as Simitis returns from an official visit to China tonight. On Monday, Theodoros Pangalos, a former foreign minister and culture minister fired for criticizing the government, will likely be named health minister, the sources said. But they did not rule out the post going to Dimitris Kremastinos, a professor of cardiology who has held the portfolio in the past. Deputy Press Minister Telemachos Hytiris indicated yesterday that Papadopoulos’s dismissal was a matter of time, refusing to answer specific questions. «The prime minister, as you know, is abroad and he is returning tomorrow night. There is nothing new. You persist in vain,» he told reporters. For his part, Papadopoulos believes that he can no longer stay at the Health Ministry, owing to the furor over his decision. But he also does not want to anticipate Simitis by submitting his resignation because he does not believe that the interview in which he announced his decision does not constitute a reason for his removal from the government. In an interview with Kathimerini on Sunday, Papadopoulos said that he would not seek re-election (elections are due to be held by spring 2004) but would like to carry out the reforms that he had begun as health minister. However, Simitis was reported to be furious that one of his leading aides – who had been in the forefront of reforms – should make such an announcement without briefing him first. Sources close to Papadopoulos denied a report in To Vima yesterday claiming that the health minister had received a message from China to «resign or be fired.» The sources said that there had been no contact (either direct or indirect) between the minister and the prime minister. But they added that it was self-evident that the prime minister could have Papadopoulos’s resignation the moment he asked for it.