Cabinet reshuffle soon

It emerged yesterday that Prime Minister George Papandreou is preparing to announce a much-hyped Cabinet reshuffle in the next few days, despite advice from some of his aides that he postpone the shake-up until after his scheduled speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) on September 11. Meanwhile, ruling PASOK’s office announced a list of candidates for 77 municipalities, excluding major seats such as Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki. According to sources, the reshuffle will be announced by next Wednesday when Papandreou is due to travel to Thessaloniki to prepare for his appearance at TIF, the most important annual gathering of businessmen and politicians, where the prime minister traditionally sets out his government’s policy for the coming year. This year, the convention is being anticipated even more keenly than usual, as the debt-ridden country faces a deepening recession. Members of labor unions are planning protest rallies on the evening of September 11 in Thessaloniki to coincide with the premier’s speech and to express their opposition to austerity measures. Sources say the details of the reshuffle will probably be announced between Sunday and Tuesday but certainly before Wednesday, as Papandreou will want to be flanked by his new Cabinet when he travels to the northern port city. The premier yesterday met with several top-ranking PASOK cadres, including Agricultural Development Minister Katerina Batzeli and Environment Minister Tina Birbili, who he is believed to be putting forward as candidates in local elections scheduled for November 7. Batzeli is reportedly being lined up as a candidate for central Greece, while Birbili is being touted to run for the Attica Prefecture. According to sources, most of these cadres have refused run in the local elections. Papandreou is said to have pressed them to change their minds, noting that their popularity in opinion polls meant they were likely to win the seats. Two of the candidates the premier is said to be certain about are Deputy Health Minister Fofi Gennimata for Athens mayor and Piraeus Prefect Yiannis Michas for the mayor of the Municipality of Piraeus.

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