NEWS

ND insists PM staying put

Ruling New Democracy officials yesterday rallied behind Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, extolling his virtues, as the government spokesman rebuffed a press report quoting the premier as saying he was «tired» and ready to step down if ND loses the next general elections. «The prime minister is too young to be considering retirement,» government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said of the 52-year-old premier. The spokesman spoke of «fanciful scenarios» but did not deny that a meeting had taken place between the premier and the publisher of Real News, in which the report appeared. The report cites Karamanlis as saying: «I have been president of New Democracy for more than 12 years. I am tired. I will work hard until the elections, put all my energy into the fight to tackle the financial crisis, but if despite all this we lose the elections, I will go.» Sources at the Maximos Mansion suggested yesterday that the premier might have made a statement off the record that was subsequently, inappropriately, published. Meanwhile ND officials of all levels, including those believed to be the likeliest contenders for Karamanlis’s post, threw their full support behind the premier and his prospects at the head of the party. «Costas Karamanlis is the guarantor of the unity of this great party,» said Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos. «I have never heard the premier declare that he is tired and wants to step down,» said conservative deputy Kyriakos Mitsotakis. «The prime minister is present, active and striving for the good of our country,» Deputy Education Minister Andreas Lykourentzos commented. Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou seized the chance to capitalize on the latest mini-crisis within the ruling party, remarking in a speech before his party’s political council that «whoever is tired should go home.» Papandreou said forthcoming elections for the European Parliament, due in June, were now more important than ever. «Our victory will give the necessary message to our country’s conservative forces,» he said, noting that the the polls would «play the role of a referendum.»