PM seeks to rally troops

Prime Minister George Papandreou yesterday sought to impress upon his ministers the need for unity ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote next week on deeply unpopular pension and labor relations but a Cabinet meeting was marred by disputes between high-ranking cadres, sources said. Responding to charges – from within and outside his party – that PASOK had reneged on pre-election pledges, Papandreou told Cabinet members that a draft bill foreseeing pension cuts and facilitating layoffs was a basic component of the country’s recovery plan. «The difficult decisions we have taken were crucial for us to tackle the precarious position that our country and our economy are in,» the premier said. «Next week will be very important and the government must present a united front,» he added. The premier rebuffed charges of an about-turn on pre-election promises, claiming that his administration had «managed to protect the basic rights of citizens» despite pressure from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to push through harsh spending cuts. Sources told Kathimerini that Papandreou asked for improved cooperation between his ministers and encouraged them to increase their contact with labor unions. But some of the most prominent ministers attending yesterday’s Cabinet meeting were not seeing eye to eye. Sources reported a peak in tensions between Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou and Economy, Competitiveness and Merchant Marine Minister Louka Katseli. The reason for the altercation was reportedly the relatively minor matter of the appointment of the president of the State Legal Council. Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos intervened on the side of Papaconstantinou and Environment Minister Tina Birbili on the side of Katseli, the sources said. In Parliament, Labor and Social Insurance Minister Andreas Loverdos, who spearheaded the drafting of the reforms, insisted that the debate in PASOK was healthy. «We engage in dialogue, even within our own ranks, and we are not afraid of democratic exchanges,» he said. He was responding to charges by New Democracy deputy Yiannis Vroutsis, who accused the government of «surrendering itself unconditionally» to the demands of its international creditors.

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