Feuds fuel reshuffle talk

A dispute between the Environment and the Infrastructure ministries yesterday, over the possible extension of the section of the Attiki Odos highway that arcs around Athens, was the latest sign of growing friction within the government, as the possibility grew of a possible Cabinet reshuffle taking place soon. Infrastructure Minister Dimitris Reppas and Environment Minister Tina Birbili appeared to be at odds over the extent of the Attiki Odos extension and when the work might begin. The previous New Democracy government had proposed extending the highway by more than 70 kilometers but their Socialist successors said last December that the project was unmanageable and could be damaging to the environment. ND planned to extend Attiki Odos by 71.6 kilometers, including the construction of a 4-kilometer tunnel through Mount Hymettus in eastern Athens. Now Reppas has declared himself to be in favor of keeping some parts of the expansion scheme, including the controversial eastern extension of the road through Mount Hymettus. He is also in favor of launching a tender for the project as soon as possible. Birbili, however, does not want any action to be taken before a review of the overall regulatory plan for Athens is completed. She is also skeptical about the Mount Hymettus extension. The clash of views is just the latest dispute within government ranks. A series of objections by MPs and wavering by ministers has plagued PASOK over the last few weeks and it now seems that Prime Minister George Papandreou is set on conducting a reshuffle to freshen up his team as well as give it new impetus. Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis had repeatedly rejected speculation that a Cabinet reshuffle was about to take place. But yesterday he seemed to hint that a change of guard could be imminent. «It is a matter of course that reshuffles take place in all governments,» he said when questioned about the possibility of changes to ministerial posts. Sources said that PASOK strategists are now considering when the best time for such a move would be. Some are in favor of it taking place in September, after the prime minister speaks at the Thessaloniki International Fair. Others support a change after local elections in November.

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